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From the collection of the 

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v Jjibrary 

San Francisco, California 


Compiled by 
LYLE SAXON, State Director, 
Special Writer 

Material Gathered by Workers of 
the Works 'Progress Administration, 
Louisiana Writers' Project, and 
Sponsored by The Louisiana State 
Library Commission. 
Jacket and Decorations by * 
Illustrated 'with 




r i&tbergibe 


New Orleans City Guide 

Louisiana State Guide 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 


Father Mississippi 

Fabulous New Orleans 

Old Louisiana 

Lafitte the Pirate 
Children of Strangers 


Voodoo in New Orleans 



Howard 0. Hunter, Commissioner 
Mrs. Florence Kerr, Assistant Commissioner 
James H. Crutcher, Administrator for Louisiana 

QPije JcUbrrBifir $re 



a phrase often heard in the Bayou Country of Louisiana. 

This Gumbo Ya-Ya is a book of the living folklore of Louisiana. 
As such it is primarily the work of those characters, real or imag- 
inary, living or dead, who created this folklore. We wish to ex- 
press our indebtedness, therefore, to Madame Slocomb, who was 
so polite that she invited even the dead to her parties; and to 
Valcour Aime and the golden plates at the bottom of the Missis- 
sippi; to Monsieur Dufau and his ciel-de-lits, and to Tante Na- 
omie, bold in her ' bare feets' at the blessing of the shrimp fleet; 
to the ghost of Myrtle Grove and the loup-garous of Bayou 
Goula; to Mike Noud and 'The Bucket of Blood,' and to Jennie 
Green McDonald, left alone in the original Irish Channel; to 
Mrs. Messina, who had everything, including half an orphan, 
and to Mr. Plitnick, who had the timidity; to Miss Julie, who 
rouged her roses, and to Mrs. Zito, who made everybody cry to 
beat the band ; to Chief Brother Tillman, for whom Mardi Gras 
was life, and to Creola Clark, 'who kept her mind on Mama'; to 
John Simms,' Junior, the chimney sweep on a holiday, and to all 
the vendors of pralines and calas tout chauds; to Evangeline and to 
Lafitte the Pirate; to Annie Christmas and Marie Laveau; to Pere 
Antoine and Pepe Lulla; to Mamzelle Zizi and Josie Arlington 
and the hop head's love, 'Alberta'; to Long Nose and Perfume 
Peggy; to Mother Catherine and the Reverend Maude Shannon; 
to Coco Robichaux and Zozo la.Brique; to Crazah and Lala and 
Banjo Annie; and to the Baby Doll who had been a Baby Doll for 
twenty years. 

vi Preface 

The material for this book was gathered by members of the 
Louisiana Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administra- 
tion. The idea was suggested by Henry G. Alsberg in 1936; he 
was then the National Director of the Federal Writers' Program. 
We in Louisiana were pleased with the idea, and at every possible 
opportunity assigned workers to the task of collecting the folk- 
lore of the State. 

The Louisiana Library Commission, of which Essae M. Culver 
is Executive Secretary, has sponsored this book, as well as the 
earlier publication, the Louisiana State Guide. The city of New 
Orleans sponsored our first publication, The New Orleans City 

It may be well to remember that Louisiana was first a French 
colony, then Spanish, and that the territory was nearly a century 
old before becoming a part of the United States. It was an agri- 
cultural territory and many thousands of Negro slaves were im- 
ported. In the plantation sections the Negroes outnumbered the 
Whites five to one; consequently their contribution to the folk- 
lore of the State has been large. 

The Creoles, those founders of the French colony, contributed 
their elegance, their customs, and cuisine. They influenced their 
slaves and, in a sense, their slaves influenced them. 

In Southwest Louisiana lived the Acadians or Cajuns, as 
they are affectionately called those sturdy farming folk who, 
driven from their homes in Nova Scotia at the end of the eight- 
eenth century, populated that area. 

It would seem that the whole of Louisiana was a peculiarly 
fecund part of the Americas; the forests were filled with birds and 
animals, the bayous and lakes were teeming with fish, and the 
Creole mansions and the Cajun cottages were full of children. 

In a leisurely collection of the folklore of the various racial 
groups, we have attempted to have the collecting of material 
done either by members of the groups themselves or by those long 
familiar with such groups. For example, in the stories pertain- 
ing to the Creoles much of the work was done by Madame 
Jeanne Arguedas, Madame Henriette Michinard, Monsieur Pierre 
Lelong, Caroline Durieux, and especially by Hazel Breaux, who 

Preface vii 

worked untiringly collecting Creole and other lore. Many old 
families were consulted and their stories, their rhymes and jokes, 
have been written down here for the first time. We are grateful, 
too, to Archbishop Rummel and to Roger Baudier of ' Catholic 
Action of the South' for advice and help. 

The Cajuns have produced many State leaders, from Governor 
Alexandre Mouton to Jimmy Domengeaux, the present repre- 
sentative of the Bayou Country in Congress. In this book, how- 
ever, we have attempted to treat only of those humbler dwellers 
of their part of the State. Harry Huguenot, Velma McElroy 
Juneau, Mary Jane Sweeney, Margaret Ellis, and Blanche Oliver 
worked in those outlying districts. 

Much of the information pertaining to the Negro was col- 
lected by Negro workers. Robert McKinney gathered most of 
the material in the chapter entitled ' Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, 
and Queens.' Marcus B. Christian, who was Supervisor of the 
all-Negro Writers' Project, also contributed to the book, as did 
Edmund Burke. Many Negroes who were not connected with 
the Project offered information and suggestions. Among these 
were Joseph Louis Gilmore, Charles Barthelemy Rousseve, author 
of The Negro in Louisiana, President A. W. Dent of Dillard Uni- 
versity, and Sister Anastasia of the Convent of the Holy Family. 

In so far as we know, certain aspects of life in New Orleans 
have not been recorded before, such as the chapters dealing with 
Saint Joseph's and Saint Rosalia's Day, the Irish Channel, the 
Sockserhause Gang, Pailet Lane, and the ' scares' in the chapter 
entitled 'Axeman's Jazz,' in which are told the stories of such 
folk characters as the Axeman, the Needle Man, the Hugging 
Molly \ and the Devil Man. We have attempted also to explain 
the mercurial and characteristic reactions to these horrors. Maud 
Wallace, Cecil A. Wright, Catherine Dillon, Rhoda Jewell, Zoe 
Posey, Joseph Treadaway, and Catherine Cassibry Perkins con- 
tributed to these sections as well as to others. 

The plates in this volume are from drawings by Caroline 
Durieux; the ghost map, the headpieces, and the tailpieces are by 
Roland Duvernet. Photographs, except for those where credit is 
specifically given, were made by Victor Harlow. 

viii Preface 

We are grateful to those earlier writers who recorded some of 
the phases of Louisiana folklore Alcee Fortier, Lafcadio 
Hearn, Grace King, and George W. Cable as well as to such 
contemporary writers as Doctor William A. Read, Edward 
Laroque Tinker, Roark Bradford, and Doctor Thad St. Martin. 



i. Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens . , i 

2.. Street Criers . . . . .- .-'. . . .: . 1.7 

3. The Irish Channel . -. . . . ;*" . " , 50 

4. Axeman's Jazz . v . . . . ' .. " . " ,' 75 

5. Saint Joseph's Day . . . . . . ~ ., 93 

6. Saint Rosalia's Day ' w ' ". ... . . 107 

7. Nickel Gig, Nickel Saddle . . . ' . . . 12.1 

8. The Creoles '.,:.- ^ . . '. . . . 138 

9. The Cajuns \ . . . . .... 179 

10. The Temple of Innocent Blood ..... 107 

11. The Plantations . .' . .''.:.'"'; . 2.12. 
12.. The Slaves '. .... '.1 . ; 2.^4 

13. Buried Treasure . . . . . . . . ^58 

14. GhoStS * ;. . . . . . * . . 2.JI 

15. Crazah and the Glory Road . . .' A .300 

16. Cemeteries . . . . .' ; . . - . 316 

17. Riverfront Lore . . . . ... .366 

18. Pailet Lane . .- . 385 

19. Mother Shannon . . ".- : ., ^ , ... 397 

2.0. The Sockserhause Gang ,;. . . * . . 413 

2.1. Songs . . , . . . .. > , .- '-..:, -. . :. 42.7 

2.2.. Chimney Sweeper's Holiday , . . V . 488 

2.^. A Good Man Is Hard To Find . .. . . . 496 

2.4. Who Killa Da Chief? . . . & wQk . : . 505 

A. Superstitions .... ; . . . . 5x5 

B. Colloquialisms . . . .... -559 

C. Customs . . . . 7 5^9 
Index . . . . . ' . : . . . . ( . 575 

List of Illustrations 


The 'Baby Doll' Appears on Mardi Gras and Again on St. Joseph's Night 

A Group of Baby Dolls 

Queen and Maids of Honor at the Zulu Ball 

King Zulu, the Negro Monarch of Mardi Gras 

Negroes Dressed as Indians for Mardi Gras 


The Rex Parade Passing the St. Charles Hotel on Mardi Gras 

Adele Street Is the Heart of the Irish Channel 

'I'm Irish and proud of it,' Says Mrs. Louise Allen 

'Many a good fight have I seen,' Declares Michael Horn 

Cover of a Piece of Sheet Music of the Axeman's Jazz Period 


Mrs. Caparo Has a Fine Altar to St. Joseph 

'Saints' Eating by the St. Joseph's Shrine 

An Elaborate Cake Baked in Honor of St. Joseph 

Montalbano's Altar to St. Joseph 

St. Rosalia Is Carried in Honor from Church to Church 
Mrs. Zito Makes 'a Beautiful Speech' in Honor of St. Rosalia 


PAGE 11 

xii - List of Illustrations 


A Cajun Oysterman of Barataria with his Oyster Tongs 

A Cajun Fisherman's Family in their Bayou Home 

Cajun Girls of the Bayou Country 

Old Cajun Woman 

Shrimp Fleet Waiting To Be Blessed 

The Archbishop on the Way To Bless the Shrimp Fleet 


Statue of Mother Catherine 
Mother Catherine's Statue of Jehovah 

Mother Maude Shannon, Leader of a Popular Cult of Today 

When the ' Mother' of a Cult Dies She Is Often Buried with a Crown 

on her Head 


A Haunted Summer House at 'The Shadows' in New Iberia 

The Strange Old LePrete House Has Many Ghostly Legends 

Fort Livingstone and Grande Isle, Once the Haunt of Lafitte's Pirates 

Madame Perrin Who Claims That Napoleon, John Paul Jones and Pirate 

Lafitte Are Buried in the Same Grave 


'Skeletons,' a Painting by Edward Schoenberger, Inspired by 

New Orleans Cemeteries 

'The Devil in a Cemetery,' Painting by John McCrady 
The Mausoleum of Michael the Archangel 

Old Tomb, Girod Cemetery 

Charity Hospital Cemetery, the Potter's Field 

St. Louis Cemeteries List Burial Prices 

List of Illustrations - xiii 


Part of the Ceremony That Precedes All Saints' Day 

All Saints' Day in St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery 
On All Saints' Day Refreshments and Souvenirs Are Sold at the 

Cemetery Gates 

'Banjo Annie,' One of the Gayer Characters of the Vieux Carre 
New Orleans Chimney Sweeps 

Chapter 1 

Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Qiieens 

dido Street, wild and fast and hot with sin. But the night before 
Mardi Gras blazed to a new height. 

The darkness outside the bars was broken only by yellow 
rectangles of light, spreading over the banquette, then quickly 
vanishing, each time saloon doors opened and closed. Music 
boxes blasted from every lighted doorway. Black men swag- 
gered or staggered past, hats and caps pulled low over their eyes, 
which meant they were tough, or set rakishly over one ear, 
which meant they were sports. There were the smells: stale 
wine and beer, whiskey, urine, perfume, sweating armpits. 

In one dimly lighted place couples milled about the floor, hug- 
ging each other tightly, going through sensuous motions to the 
music. Drug addicts, prostitutes, beggars and workingmen, they 
were having themselves a time. A fat girl danced alone, snap- 
ping her fingers. 

Young black women tried to interest men, who sagged over 
the bars, their eyelids heavy from liquor and 'reefers.' One 
woman screamed above the din: 'I'll do it for twenty cents, Hot 
Papa. I can't dance with no dry throat. I wants twenty cents 

2 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

to buy me some wine.' She did a little trucking step, raised her 
dress, 'showed her linen.' 

Harry entered. Somebody shouted: ' Shut off that damn music 
box. Come on, Harry. Put it on, son!' 

Harry, a lean brown boy in a red silk shirt and green trousers, 
held a tambourine high, beat out an infectious tom-tom tempo 
with one fist, huskily sang words that had no meaning, but in a 
rhythm that was a drug. His greasy cap low over one ear, thick 
lips drawn back from large white teeth, he performed a wild 
dance, shoulders hunched, scrawny hips undulating. 

Hock-a-lee-hock-a-lee-weeooo ! 
Hock-a-lee-hock-a-lee-weeooo ! 

There were comments. 'Man, those Indians gonna step high 
tomorrow.' Harry's chant was one of the Indians' songs. 

A small girl shoved her way through the crowd around the 
singer. ' Wait '11 you see us Baby Dolls tomorrow,' she promised. 
' Is we gonna wiggle our tails !' A man threw an arm around her 
neck, drew her away, over to where they could do some ' corner 

In the back room was the real man of the night. His face a 
trifle blank from whiskey, his eyes sleepy, King Zulu held court. 
This was his royal reception. Just now the King was pretty 
tired. The Queen rose suddenly and moved away from the table, 
her hips shaking angrily. If the old fool wants to go to sleep, let 
him. She'll find herself somebody who can keep his eyes open 
and likes some fun. She's a queen, and a queen has to have her 

Nobody ever goes to bed on this night. Ain't tomorrow the 
big day? Not until morning do they ever go home, and then only 
to array themselves in costumed splendor. 

But there is never any weariness about King Zulu on Carnival 
Day. With his royal raiment, he magically dons fresh energy. A 
few shots of whiskey and the trick is done. His head is up, his 
posture majestic at least in the beginning of the day. Later he 
may droop a bit. 

Strongarmed bodyguards and shiny black limousines, rented 

Kings , Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens - $ 

from the Geddes and Moss Undertakers, always accompany him 
to the Royal Barge at the New Basin Canal and South Carrollton 
Avenue. Cannons are fired, automobile horns blast, throats grow 
hoarse acclaiming him. Many a white face laughs upward from 
the sea of black ones, strayed far from the celebration just-com- 
ing to life down on Canal Street. 

There was suspense this morning. Impatient waiting. At 
last, about nine o'clock, a tugboat pushed the Royal Barge away 
from its resting place. Whistles shrieked. The horns and the 
applause of the admiring throng increased. The King took a 
swig from a bottle, yelled to one of his assistants, 'Listen, you 
black bastard, you can help me all you want, but don't mess 
'round with my whiskey.* Then he turned and bowed gra- 
ciously toward the shore. 

The other Zulus helped His Majesty greet the crowds. 

'Hello, Pete. We is in our glory today.' 

'What you say, black gal.' 

'Ain't it fine?' 

Never have any of the Zulus been highhat. Ed Hill, one of the 
organization's overlords, said: 'See Zulu people? There is the 
friendliest people you can find. They ain't no stuffed shirts.' 

The Zulus emerged as a Mardi Gras organization in 1910, 
marching on foot, a jubilee-singing quartet in front, another 
quartet in the rear Birth had come the year before, when fifty 
Negroes gathered in a woodshed. William Story was the first 
king, wearing a lard-can crown and carrying a banana-stalk 
scepter. By 1913 progress had reached the point where King 
Peter Williams wore a starched white suit, an onion stickpin, 
and carried a loaf of Italian bread as a scepter. In 1914 King 
Henry rode in a buggy and from that year they grew increasingly 
ambitious, boasting three floats in 1940, entitled respectively, 
'The Pink Elephant,' on which rode the king and his escort, 
'Hunting the Pink Elephant,' and 'Capturing the Pink Elephant.' 

It was in 192.2. that the first yacht the Royal Barge was 
rented, and since then the ruler of the darker side of the Carnival 
has always ridden in high style down the New Basin Canal. 

Clouds hung low this Mardi Gras Day of 1940. King Zulu and 

4 Gumbo Ya-Ya ' 

his dukes sniffed heavenward. Let it rain. Little old water never 
hurt a mighty Zulu. White-painted lips never lost their grins. 

At Hagan Avenue the floats and supply of coconuts awaited 
them. With all the dignity he could summon, King Zulu 
mounted his 'Pink Elephant/ and the others clambered aboard 
theirs. Carefully, His Majesty arranged his red-velvet-and- 
ermine costume. Then a signal, and the parade was on. 

Out Poydras Street to Carondelet they rolled, the thirteen- 
piece band swinging out with Til Be Glad When You're Dead, 
You Rascal, You,' in torrid style, sixteen black 'policemen' lead- 
ing behind the long-legged Grand Marshal, who slung his body 
about and around like a drum major. The music was so hot the 
King started doing his number. 

Onlookers leaped into the street, shouting, 'Do it, boy, King 
Zulu is got his day.' 

Once specially appointed black 'Mayor' Fisher, president of 
the club, shouted: 'Doesn't you all know we is on our way to see 
the white mayor? Let's make time.' 

And time was made. Hot feet hit the street. More viewers 
joined the parade and danced up a breeze. The maskers on the 
floats slung coconuts like baseballs, right into the midst of their 
admirers . 

Once the perspiring monarch uncrowned himself. Prince 
Alonzo Butler was shocked. 'King, is you a fool or not? Don't 
you know a king must stay crowned?' 

This particular king wasn't really supposed to be king at all, 
and he felt mighty lucky about it. Johnny Metoyer was to have 
been the 1940 ruler, but Johnny had died months before. An 
'evil stroke' had hit Johnny suddenly the November before and 
within a few days Johnny was gone. This parade was partly in 
celebration of his memory. 

'Them niggers is going to put it on rough for ole John,' Charlie 
Fisher had vowed. 'There ain't going to be no hurting feet and 
things like that, either, 'cause them niggers don't get no hurting 
feet on Mardi Gras Day. No, indeed. Them feet stays hot and, 
boy, when they hits the pavement serenading to that swing 
music, you can hear 'em pop. It's hot feet beating on the blocks. ' 

Manuel Bernard was the 1940 King Zulu and he was a born 
New Orleans boy. Other days he drives a truck. 

Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens 

Gloom was in the air before Johnny Metoyer went to glory. 
He had been president and dictator of the organization for 
twenty-nine years, but had never chosen to be king until now. 
And this year he had announced his intention of being king, and 
then resigning from the Zulu Aid and Pleasure Club. This, 
everyone had agreed, probably meant disbanding. It just 
wouldn't be the same without ole John. Even the city officials 
were worrying. It seemed like the upper class of Negroes had 
been working on Johnny, and had at last succeeded. 

The Zulus had no use for 'stuck-up niggers.' Their member- 
ship is derived from the humblest strata, porters, laborers, and a 
few who live by their wits. Professional Negroes disapprove of 
them, claiming they ' carry on' too much, and ' do not represent 
any inherent trait of Negro life and character, serving only to 
make the Negro appear grotesque and ridiculous, since they are 
neither allegoric nor historical.' 

When, in November, 1939, word came that Johnny Metoyer 
was dead, people wouldn't believe it. The night the news came, 
the Perdido Street barroom was packed. Representatives of the 
Associated Press, the United Press and the local newspapers 
rubbed shoulders with Zulus, Baby Dol|s and Indians. The at- 
mosphere was deep, dark and blue. Everybody talked at once. 

'Ain't it a shame?' 

'Poor John! He's gotta have a helluva big funeral.' 

'Put him up right so his body can stay in peace for a long time 
to come.' 

Somebody started playing 'When the Saints Come Marching 
In,' written by Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong, Metoyer's bosom 
friend. Then it is suggested that a telegram be sent to Arm- 
strong. He's tooting his horn at the Cotton Club on Broadway, 
but it is felt he'll board a plane and fly down for the funeral. 

A doubt was voiced that any Christian church would accept 
the body for last rites. 'John was a man of the streets, who ain't 
never said how he stood on religion.' Probably, others said con- 
fidently, if there were enough insurance money left, one of the 
churches could be persuaded to see things differently. Of course, 
he would be buried in style befitting a Zulu monarch. Members 
must attend in full regalia, Johnny's body must be carried 

6 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

through headquarters, there must be plenty of music, coconuts 
on his grave. Maybe Mayor Maestri could be persuaded to pro- 
claim the day a holiday in Zululand. 

But Johnny had a sister; Victoria Russell appeared on the 
scene and put down a heavy and firm foot. All attempts to make 
the wake colorful were foiled. 'Ain't nobody gonna make a 
clown's house out of my house,' said Sister Victoria Russell. 

Even the funeral held on a Sunday afternoon, amid flowers 
and fanfare and a crowd of six thousand was filled with dis- 
appointments. Louie Armstrong had not been able to make the 
trip down from New York. Sister Russell banned the coconuts 
and the Zulu costumes. 

At the Mount Zion Baptist Church Reverend Duncan mum- 
bled his prayers in a whisper, peeping into the gray plush casket 
every now and then. He opened with a reprimand. 'Does you 
all know this is a funeral, not a fun-making feast?' 

A drunken woman in the church yelled: 'I knows. It brings a 
pitiful home.' 

Reverend Duncan went on, while pallbearers raised Zulu ban- 
ners. 'In the midst of life we is in death.' 

The congregation san, 'How Sweet Is Jesus!' 

Reverend Horace Nash knelt and prayed: 'Lawd, look at us. 
Keep the spirit alive that makes us bow down before you. Keep 
our hearts beating and our souls ever trustful today and to- 

Somebody shouted, 'Don't break down, brother.' 

Outside waited a fourteen-piece brass band and eighteen auto- 
mobiles. Thousands marched on foot. The band struck up ' Flee 
as a Bird,' and the cortege was on its way toward Mount Olivet 
Cemetery. Everyone was very solemn, and there was not a smile 
visible. All Zulus wore black banners draped across their chests 
and their shoulders. 

Then, after the hearse had vanished into the cemetery, the en- 
tire aspect of the marchers changed. The band went into ' Beer 
Barrel Polka,' and dancing hit the streets. Promenading in 
Mardi Gras fashion lasted two hours, ending in Metoyer's own 
place of business, where the last liquor was purchased and con- 
sumed. Sister Russell, returning to the scene, then ordered all 
Zulus out. 

Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens 7 

Later a meeting was called in Johnny Metoyer's bedroom. His 
belongings had been removed, but his razor strop still dangled on 
one wall. A member, gazing at this sadly, remarked, 'John was 
the shavingest man you wanted to see.' 

At eight-thirty Reverend Foster Sair opened with a prayer. 

'Lawd, we is back within the fold of the man who caused us 
to be. We is sittin' here in his domicile. Help us never to forget 
John L. Metoyer. Let us carry on the spirit of our founder. O 
Lawd, preserve our club. Make it bigger and better. Let no evil 
creep into it. Amen.' 

Inspired by this, it was immediately decided that the Zulus 
would 'carry on,' that there would be a parade this year, any- 
way. Then Vice-President Charlie Fisher announced he was 
stepping into the presidency, and that all other officers would 
advance in office in proper order. 

Definite insults followed from those who disapproved. 

'Shut up!' someone admonished them. 'You is talkin' about 
the President now.' j wu 

There was more argument and bickering in the meetings that 
followed. Manuel Bernard, friend of Fisher, was at last chosen 
to be the 1940 king. At this meeting the music box in the front 
bar wailed forth with 'The Good Morning Blues,' and dancers 
were kicking and stomping, twisting their supple bodies the way 
they felt. It disturbed the meeting a little, but someone said: 
1 Let the music play, 'cause the mournin' is over. We is all gotta 
do some flippin' around now.' 

So the Zulus didn't fade out after all, but marched in high 
style in 1940, and Manuel Bernard, rocking back and forth on the 
high throne of his float, was a proud and happy man. 

Finally the parade reached the City Hall and paused before the 
crowded stand. The white mayor wasn't present, but a repre- 
sentative received coconuts and a bow from His Majesty. The 
band played 'Every Man a King,' Huey P. Long's song, and the 
dancing was wild. It was King Zulu's day. 

The next long stop was at Dryades and Poydras Streets. A pro- 
prietor of a beer parlor at that intersection presented the King 
with a silver loving cup containing champagne. 

'Damn, that's good,' said His Majesty, and smacked his lips. 

8 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

A bevy of short-skirted black girls invited him down just then, 
but no dice. 'Ain't no funny crap today. Remember last year?' 
Last year King Zulu left his float to follow a woman and held up 
the parade for two hours. So these girls, whom the boys call the 
'zig-a-boos,' disappointedly went their way. 

Strange things happen even to a king. It suddenly went down 
the line, 'The King has done wet himself.' Didn't make much 
difference, though. He had spilled so much whiskey on his cos- 
tume, nobody could tell what was what. 

Everybody was a little drunk now. The grass hula skirts all 
Zulus wear over long white drawers swished faster and faster as 
the maskers on the floats 'put it on,' and the nappy black skull 
caps adorning their heads were set at dashing angles. The parade 
moved swifter now toward the Geddes and Moss Undertaking 
Parlors, where the Queen and her court awaited them on a bal- 
cony over the street. 

A thunderous ovation greeted King Zulu at South Rampart 
and Erato Streets. A high yellow gal fanned her hips by him and 
he temporarily deserted his float. 'Mayor' Fisher hauled him 
back to the dignity and comparative safety of his high perch atop 
the float. 'I never thought this could happen to a king,' His 
Majesty sighed. Pretty girls like that wouldn't want the King 
when he was ' jest a man.' 

'It's damn funny,' Fisher sniffed, 'how womens is. Now that 
woman knows the King is busy, still she wants him. Every time 
I think how much trouble Zulus give me I get mad.' 

All over South Rampart Street women were jumping up and 
down and feeling hot for the King. The musicians were wet with 
perspiration and from the showers that had fallen during the 
morning, but they kept beating out the music and getting hotter 
all the time. 

After knocking out several numbers, the entire band filed into 
a saloon for drinks, and when they came out everybody started 
'kicking 'em up.' The dances grew more violent. Women low- 
ered their posteriors to the ground, shaking them wildly as they 
rose and fell, rolled their stomachs, vibrated their breasts. A 
crowd of Baby Dolls came along, all dressed up in tight, scanty 
trunks, silk blouses and poke bonnets with ribbons tied under 

Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens p 

dusky chins. False curls framed faces that were heavily pow- 
dered and rouged over black and chocolate skins. The costumes 
were of every color in the rainbow and some that are not. They 
joined the crowd, dancing and shaking themselves. 

' Sure, they call me Baby Doll,' said one of them, who was over 
six feet tall and weighed more than two hundred pounds. ' That's 
my name. 

'I'm a Baby Doll today and every day. I bin a Baby Doll for 
twenty years. Since I always dressed like a Baby Doll on Mardi 
Gras the other girls said they would dress like me; they would 
wear tight skirts and bloomers and a rimmed hat. They always 
say you get more business on Mardi Gras than any other day, 
so I had a hard time making them gals close up and hit the 
streets. See, mens have fun on Carnival. They come into the 
houses masked and want everything and will do anything. They 
say, "I'm a masker, fix me up." Well, them gals had a time on 
Mardi Gras, havin' their kicks. 

4 The way we used to kick 'em up that day was a damn shame. 
Some of the gals didn't wear much clothes and used to show 
themselves out loud. Fellows used to run 'em down with dollar 
bills in their hands, and you didn't catch none o c them gals 
refusing dollar bills. That's why all the women back Perdido 
Street wanted to-be Baby Dolls. 

' We sure did shine. We used to sing, clap our hands, and you 
know what "raddy" is? Well, that's the way we used to walk 
down the street. People used to say, "Here comes the babies, 
but where 's the dolls?" 

4 I'm the oldest livin' Baby Doll, and I'm one bitch who is glad 
she knows right from wrong. But I do a lot of wrong, because I 
figures wrong makes you as happy as right. Don't it? 

'Sure, I tried religion, but religion don't. give you no kicks. 
Just trouble and worry. 

'Say what you like, it's my business. I'll tell anybody I sells 
myself enough on Mardi Gras to do myself some good the whole 
year around. There ain't no sense in being a Baby Doll for one 
day only. Me, I'm a. Baby Doll all the time. 

'Just follow a Baby Doll on Mardi Gras and see where you 

io Gumbo Ya-Ya 

land. You know, if you follow her once, you'll be following her 
all the time. That's the truth. 

'I ain't no trouble-seeker, but I got plenty trouble. The other 
day a man come into my house with fifty cents, but a dime short. 
I just picked up a chair and busted it over his head. That nigger 
is always comin' in short. He punched me in the nose, and we 
went to jail. The judge turned me loose, but he says, "Gal, 
don't you come back here no more." And I says, "No, sir, 
Judge." When I stabbed Uncle Dick the next day they give me 
three months. But Dago Tony got me out. 

'I didn't want to cut Uncle Dick, but he kept messin' around. 
I sure don't like nobody to mess around with me. I just can't 
stand it.' 

Baby Doll has been living with Uncle Dick for five years now. 
She beats him up regularly. She has stabbed him and hit him 
over the head with rocking chairs, bricks, and sticks. Uncle 
Dick is a retired burglar and 'switch-blade wielder'; that is, he 
used a knife that opened when he pressed a button and he could 
' kill a man dead' in a split second. But things got too hot. Now 
it is whispered he is a stool pigeon for the police in the crime- 
infested neighborhood where he lives. 

He depends on Baby Doll, but she's a tough number. Besides 
her profession, she curses a blue streak, uses dope, is a stickup 
artist, smokes cigars and packs a Joe Louis wallop. 

'Dago Tony has been around himself,' Baby Doll went on. 
' He is all right. Me and him done pulled plenty lemons together. 
He got the peelin' and I got the juice.' 

A ' lemon' is a method of extracting a man's bankroll when he 
is busy with a woman. 

'Dago Tony got me into a business once that was too hot to 
keep up, but, man, was it solid! He'd give the drunks a big 
hooker with knockout drops in their glass, and when they 
passed out I was on 'em. The trouble was I had to hit too many 
of them niggers over their heads. They'd wake up too quick. 
I seen so much blood drippin' from people's heads I got scared 
and cut that stuff out. I'll tell you, a Baby Doll's life ain't no 
bed of roses.' 

Baby Doll began to think she had talked too much. Other 

Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens 11 

things began to creep into her mind, too*. Some young black 
men edging the crowd were giving her the once-over, and busi- 
ness is business. 

' You're holdin* me up. I got to hit the streets. There's more 
money for me in the streets than there is here. Maybe I'm 
missin' a few tricks. ' And she was off through the crowd around 
the floats, walking 'raddy' to attract attention. 

' I was the first Baby Doll,' Beatrice Hill asserted firmly, when 
questioned about the history of the organization. ' Liberty and 
Perdido Streets were red hot back in 1912., when that idea 
started. Women danced on bars with green money in their stock- 
ings, and sometimes they danced naked. They used to lie on the 
floor and shake their bellies while the mens fed them candy. 
You didn't need no system to work uptown. It wasn't like the 
downtown red-light district, where they made more money, but 
paid more graft. You had to put on the ritz downtown, which 
some of the gals didn't like. You did what you wanted uptown. ' 

Uptown prostitutes got high on marijuana and 'snow.' They 
still do. Beatrice is fifty-two and is about beat out now. Her 
arms and legs are thickly spotted with black needle holes. She 
still uses drugs, and admits it. Also, she goes to Charity Hos- 
pital and takes treatment for syphilis. Back in 1912. she made 
fifty to seventy-five dollars a day hustling and stealing. Her 
man, Jelly Beans, got most of it, and they blew the rest 'gettin' 
their kicks.' Beatrice is all bad and proud of it. She's been to 
jail for murder, shooting, stealing, and prostitution. She boasts 
of her hectic past with gusto and vanity. 

'Them downtown bitches thought their behinds was solid 
silver,' she recalls contemptuously, 'but they didn't never have 
any more money than we did. We was just as good lookers and 
had just as much money. Me, I was workin' right there on 
Gravier and Franklin Streets. 

'We gals around my house got along fine. Them downtown 
gals tried to get the police to go up on our graft, but they 
wouldn't do it. Does you remember Clara Clay, who had all 
them houses downtown? Well, we was makin' good money and 
used to buy up some fun. All of us uptown had nothin' but 
good-lookin' men. We used to send them downtown 'round 

iz Gumbo Ya-Ya 

them whores and make 'em get all their money until they found 
out and had 'em beat up. Then we stopped. I'm tellin' you that 
was a war worse 'n the Civil War. All the time we was tryin' to 
outdo them downtown gals. 

'I knew a lady, name was Peggy Bry; she used to live at 
2.31 Basin Street. Well, anyhow, Miss Bry gave a ball for the 
nigger bitches in the downtown district at the Entertainers' 
Cafe, and she said she didn't want no uptown whore there. All 
them gals was dressed to kill in silks and satins and they had all 
their mens dressed up, too. That was goin' to be some ball. We 
heared about it long before. So, we figures and figures how we 
could go and show them whores up with our frocks. I told all 
my friends to get their clothes ready and to dress up their mens, 
'cause we was goin' to that ball. 

'Everybody got to gettin' ready, buyin' up some clothes. Sam 
Bonart was askin' the mens what was the matter and Canal 
Street was lookin' up at us niggers like we was the moon. We 
was ready, I'm tellin' you. I figures and figures. So, I figures 
what we would do. I got hold of a captain, the baddest dick on 
the force, and I tells him what was what. I tells him a white 
whore is givin' a ball for niggers and didn't want us to come. 
He says, " Is it a public hall?" And I says it is. He tells us to get 
ready to do our stuff and go to that ball. You see, the Captain 
knows we is in a war with them downtown bitches. Me, I 
figures he was kiddin', so I went to him and told him if he'd come 
downtown with us I'd give him a hundred dollars. He says, sure 
he would. 

' Child, we got the news around for the gals to get ready. And 
was they ready! Is the sun shinin'? It was a Monday night and 
Louie Armstrong and his Hot Five and Buddy Petit was gonna 
be playin' at that ball. We called up Geddes and Moss and hired 
black limousines. You know them whores was livin' their 
lives! All the houses was shut down, and the Captain was out 
there in front. I'm tellin' you when that uptown brigade rode 
up to the Entertainers' Cafe, all the bitches came runnin' out. 
Then they saw the Captain and they all started runnin' back 
inside. We just strutted up and filed in and filled the joint. I'm 
tellin' you, that was somethin' ! 

Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens 13 

' The first thing I did was to order one hundred and four dol- 
lars' worth of champagne, and the house couldn't fill the order. 
The bartender said, "You got me." I took all the place had, 
and the band starts playin' "Shake That Thing," and dedicates 
it to me. This white bitch, Miss Bry, comes runnin' up to me 
and says, "Look here, this is my party for my friends." I says: 
"Miss Bry, I'm the one showed you how to put silk teddies on 
your tail. Who is you? What's your racket?" Then the Captain 
walks up, lookin' hard, and he says: "Miss Bry, you ain't got 
no right in this public dance. If you don't shut your trap, I'll 
pull you in." Man, would you keep quiet? Well, that's what 
she did. 

'One of my gals I think it was Julia Ford got up on a 
table and started shakin' it on down. We took off all her 
clothes, and the owner of the place started chargin' admission 
to come in to the dance. Miss Bry raised particular hell about 
this, then went on home. We broke up that joint for true. The 
Entertainers ain't never seen a party like that one. 

' Let me tell you, and this ain't no lie: Every girl with me had 
no less than one hundred dollars on her. We called that the 
hundred-dollar party. Say, niggers was under the tables tryin' 
to find the money we was wastin' on the floor. I remembers one 
nigger trying to tear my stockings open to get at my money till 
my man hit him over his head with a chair, and that nigger went 
to the hospital. 'Course it all ended in a big fight and we all 
went to jail. 

'It wasn't long after that when a downtown gal named Susie 
Brown come to see me. She says she wants to work uptown, so 
we give her a chance. She got to makin' money, and soon she 
was called the best-dressed gal in Gravier Street. I didn't mind, 
me. She was workin' in my house, and her bed percentage was 
fine. I done seen time when I made fifty dollars in a day just 
waitin' for Susie to get done turnin' tricks. 

'Shux, that wasn't nothing. When them ships come in, that's 
when I made money. All them sailors wanted a brownie. High 
yellows fared poorly then, unless they got in them freakish 
shows. When I took in fifty dollars in them days it was a bad 
day. I was rentin' rooms, payin' me a dollar every time a gal 

14 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

turned a trick. Then I had two gals stealin' for me, and I was 
turnin' tricks myself. 

4 Lights was low around my house and some awful things was 
done right in the streets. The police? Shux, does you know what 
we was payin' the law? Every gal paid three bucks a day and the 
landlady paid three and a half, but we didn't mind at all, 'cause 
we made that with a smile. 

'Everywhere we went like the Silver Platter, the Elite, the 
Black and Tan and so on, people used to say, "Look at them 
whores!" We was always dressed down and carried our money 
in our stockings. See like around Mardi Gras Day? We used to 
break up the Zulu Ball with money, used to buy the King cham- 
pagne by the case. That's another thing, we had the Zulus with 
us. Shux, we took Mardi Gras by storm. No, we wasn't the 
Baby Dolls then; I'm talkin' about before that. 

'In 1911, Ida Jackson, Millie Barnes and Sallie Gail and a few 
other gals downtown was makin' up to mask on Mardi Gras 
Day. No, I don't know how they was goin' to mask, but they 
was goin' to mask. We was all sittin' around about three o'clock 
in the morning in my house. A gal named Althea Brown jumps 
up and she says, "Let's be ourselves. Let's be Baby Dolls. 
That's what the pimps always calls us." We started comin' up 
with the money, but Leola says: "Hold your horses. Let every 
tub stand on its own bottom." That suited everybody fine and 
the tubs stood. 

'Everybody agreed to have fifty dollars in her stocking, and 
that we could see who had the most money. Somebody says, 
"What's the name of this here organization?" And we decided 
to call ourselves the Million-Dollar Baby Dolls, and be red hot. 
Johnny Metoyer wanted us to come along with the Zulus, but 
we said nothin' doin'. We told Johnny we was out to get some 
fun in our own way and we was not stoppin' at nothin'. 

' Some of us made our dresses and some had 'em made. We was 
all lookin' sharp. There was thirty of us the best whores in 
town. We was all good-lookin' and had our stuff with us. Man, 
I'm tellin' you, we had money all over us, even in our bloomers, 
and they didn't have no zippers. 

'And that Mardi Gras Day came and we hit the streets. I'm 

Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens // 

tellin' you, we hit the streets lookin' forty, fine and mellow. We 
got out 'bout ten o'clock. We had stacks of dollars in our stock- 
ings and in our hands. We went to the Sam Bonart playground 
on Rampart and Poydras and bucked against each other to see 
who had the most money. Leola had the most she had one 
hundred and two dollars. I had ninety-six dollars and I was 
second, but I had more home in case I ran out. There wasn't 
a woman in the bunch who had less than fifty dollars. We had 
all the niggers from everywhere followin' us. They liked the 
way we shook our behinds and we shook 'em like we wanted to. 
'Know what? We went on downtown, and talk about puttin' 
on the ritz ! We showed them whores how to put it on. Boy, we 
was smokin' cigars and flingin' ten- and twenty-dollar bills 
through the air. Sho, we used to sing, and boy, did we shake it 
on down. We sang "When the Sun Goes Down" and "When 
the Saints Come Marchin' Through I Want to Be in That Num- 
ber." We wore them wide hats, but they was seldom worn, 
'cause when we got to heatin' we pulled 'em off. When them 
Baby Dolls strutted, they strutted. We showed our linen that 
day, I'm tellin' you. 

' When we hit downtown all them gals had to admit we was 
stuff. Man, when we started pitchin' dollars around, we had 
their mens fallin' on their faces tryin' to get that money. And 
there you have the startin' of the Baby Dolls. Yeah, peace was 
made. All them gals got together.' 

The parade was about ready to get started again now. The 
King heaved a slow curve at the proprietor of the saloon and the 
coconut fell right smack on his head. Everybody laughed ex- 
cept ' Mayor' Fisher. It was an indication that His Majesty was 

1 When the time comes,' moaned Fisher, rolling white eyeballs 
around in a fat, black face, ' that I can stop worryin' about that 
King and everybody else, I'm goin' to feel heaps better. It's time 
to cut out this foolishment, anyway. We is on our way to meet 
the Queen/ 

The band began swinging it faster, and the Zulus' hot feet beat 
faster, too. Everybody was feeling fine. King Manuel stretched 
out his arms congenially, and kept laughing out loud, though 

i 6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

his head was low, and the pavement looked about to jump right 
up and slap him in the face. 

It was about one-thirty when they reached the small building, 
where thousands waited to see the Queen greet her lord. 

The King posed for cameramen, and bowed to everybody gra- 
ciously. He leaned over and accepted flowers and a ribbon key of 
welcome from Doctor W. A. Willis, whose wife sponsors this use 
of the funeral parlors every year. 

Gertrude Geddes Willis made an address: 'My powerful mon- 
arch, it is a pleasure to welcome you to Geddes and Moss Under- 
takers. May your every wish be granted for your subjects and 
yourself, and may you live forever in the splendor that fits a 
king.' She handed His Majesty a bottle of champagne, ordered 
the waiters to bring more for the rest of the Zulus. 

Then there was an awed hush as a maid led the Queen out upon 
the platform, and sighs passed through the dusky crowd that 
were a tribute to her beauty. There were gasps when it could be 
clearly seen that she wore an expensive-looking white satin 
gown, lavishly trimmed in lace, a multi-colored train of metallic 
cloth, a rhinestone crown, and carried accessories to match. 
'The white lady I used to work for gave me all my accessories.' 
Queen Zulu revealed later. 'She took me downtown, and she 
said: "Ceola, I want to fix you up right. I want you to be a 
damn good queen." Those were her exact words.' 

King Manuel toasted his Queen in champagne, as his float 
remained beneath the balcony, and she sipped some, too, -smiling 
down on her admiring subjects in the street below. 

The ceremonies over, the court went inside for more refresh- 
ments. No one was permitted to follow them upstairs to their 
private quarters, where liquor of all kinds was consumed and a 
thousand fancy sandwiches enjoyed. 

The Queen was left to have her fun, too, and she usually does 
very well. In fact, there's always a certain amount of worry 
about letting a queen wander about during the hours between 
the reception and the ball to come later in the evening. It has 
been suggested that she be locked up during that time, but the 
queens have always objected strongly to that proposed measure. 

The Zulus' parade was over now, but there was always plenty 

Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens - ij 

going on around town. Things were really just getting warmed 

Suddenly, this Mardi Gras afternoon, there appeared on a 
street corner a lone figure of an elaborately garbed Indian. He 
stood there, a lighted lantern in one hand, the other shading his 
eyes, as he peered into the street ahead, first right, then left. 
This Indian's face was very black under his war paint, but his 
costume and feathered headdress were startlingly colorful. He 
studied the distance a moment, then turned and swung the lan- 
tern. Other Indians appeared, all attired in costumes at least as 
magnificent as the first, and in every conceivable color. 

A second Indian joined the first, then a third. These three all 
carried lanterns like good spy boys must. Then a runner joined 
them, a flag boy, a trio of chiefs, a savage-looking medicine man. 
Beside the first or head chief was a stout woman, wearing a cos- 
tume of gold and scarlet. She was the tribe's queen, and wife of 
the first chief. 

A consultation was held there on the corner. The chiefs got 
together, passed around a bottle, and argued with the medicine 
man until that wild creature, dressed in animal skins and a grass 
skirt, wearing a headdress of horns and a huge ring in his nose, 
jumped up and down on the pavement with rage. When, at last, 
it was decided that since there was no enemy tribe in sight, they 
might as well have a war dance, Chief ' Happy Peanut,' head of 
this tribe of the Golden Blades, emitted a bloodcurdling yell that 
resounded for blocks, 'Oowa-a-awa! Ooa-a-a-awa!' 

Tambourines were raised and a steady tattoo of rhythm beat 
out. Knees went down and up, heads swayed back and forth, 
feet shuffled on the pavement, as they circled round and round. 

The Queen chanted this song: 

The Indians are comin'. 
The Indians are comin'. 
Tu- way-pa-k a- way . 
The Chief is comin'. 
The Chief is comin'. 

/<? Gumbo Ya-Ya 

The Queen is comin*. 


The Queen is comin'. 


The Golden Blades are comin'. 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way . 

The Golden Blades are comin'. 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. . . . 

The songs the Mardi Gras Indians sing are written in choppy 
four-fourths time, with a tom-tom rhythm. The music is far 
removed from the type usually associated with Negroes. The 
Indians never sing a blues song, but chant with primitive and 
savage simplicity to this strange beat, which has an almost hyp- 
notic effect. The beating on the tambourine and rhythmic hand- 
clapping are the only accompaniments to the singing. Most of 
the words have little meaning, though some display special 
interests of the tribe, such as 

Tu-way-pa-k a- way . 


Get out the dishes. 


Get out the pan. 


Here comes the Indian man. 


Tu-way-pa-ka-way . 

Sometimes the chief of the tribe sings alone a boastful solo of 
his strength and prowess. 

Oowa-aa ! 


Oowa-a-a ! 


I'm the Big Chief! 


Of the strong Golden Blades. 


Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens ip 

The dances are wild and abandoned. Unlike the songs, there 
may be detected traces of modernity, trucking and bucking and 
'messing-around' combined with pseudo-Indian touches, much 
leaping into the air, accompanied by virile whooping. All this 
is considerably aided by the whiskey consumed while on the 
march, and the frequent smoking of marijuana. 

The tribes include such names as the Little Red, White and 
Blues, the Yellow Pocahontas, the Wild Squa-tou-las, the 
Golden Eagles, the Creole Wild Wests, the Red Frontier Hunters, 
and the Golden Blades. The last numbers twenty-two members, 
and is the largest and oldest of those still extant. 

The Golden Blades were started twenty-five years ago in a 
saloon. Ben Clark was the first chief and ruled until two years 
ago, when a younger man took over. Leon Robinson Chief 
'Happy Peanut' --deposed Clark in actual combat, as is the 
custom, ripping open Clark's arm and gashing his forehead with 
a knife. That's the way a chief is created, and that is the way his 
position is lost. 

Contrary to the casual observer's belief, these strangest of 
Mardi Gras maskers are extremely well-organized groups, whose 
operations are intricate and complicated. 

Monthly meetings are held, dues paid and the next year's pro- 
cedure carefully planned. All members are individually respon- 
sible for their costumes. They may m#ke them most of them 
do or have them made to order. 

The regalia consists of a large and resplendent crown of 
feathers, a wig, an apron, a jacket, a shirt, tights, trousers and 
moccasins. They vie with each other and with other tribes as to 
richness and elaborateness. Materials used include satins, velvet, 
silver and gold lame and various furs. The trimmings are sequins, 
crystal; colored and pearl beads, sparkling imitation jewels, 
rhinestones, spangles and gold clips put to extravagant use. 
Color is used without restraint. (Flame, scarlet and orange are 
possibly the preferred shades.) 

Amazingly intricate designs are often worked out in beads and 
brilliants against the rich materials. A huge serpent of pearls 
may writhe on a gold lame breast, an immense spider of silver 
beads appears to be crawling on a back of flame satin. Sometimes 

20 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

a chief will choose to appear in pure white. A regal crown of 
snowy feathers, rising from a base of crystal beads, will adorn 
his head, and all other parts of his costume will be of white 
velvet heavily encrusted with rhinestones and crystals. All 
costumes are worn with the arrogance expressed in such songs as 

Oh, the Little Red, White and Blues, 


Bravest Indians in the land. 


They are on the march today. 


If you should get in their way, 


Be prepared to die. 


Oowa-a-a ! 

Oowa-a-a ! 

Ten years ago the various tribes actually fought when they 
met. Sometimes combatants were seriously injured. When two 
tribes sighted each other, they would immediately go into battle 
formation, headed by the first, second and third spy boys of each 
side. Then the two head chiefs would cast their spears iron 
rods into the ground, the first to do so crying, 'Umba?', 
which was an inquiry if the other were willing to surrender. The 
second chief replied, 'Me no umba!' There was never a sur- 
render, never a retreat. There would follow a series of dances by 
the two chiefs, each around his spear, with pauses now and then 
to fling back and forth the exclamations, 'Umba?' 'Me no 
umba!' While this continued, sometimes for four or five min- 
utes, the tribes stood expectantly poised, waiting for the inev- 
itable break that would be an invitation for a free-for-all melee. 
Once a police officer was badly injured by an Indian's spear. 
After that occurrence a law was passed forbidding the tribes of 
maskers to carry weapons. 

Today the tribes are all friendly. The following song is a 
warning against the tactics of other days. 

Shootin' don't make it, no no no no. 
Shootin' don't make it, no no no no. 

Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens 21 

Shootin' don't make it, no no no no. 
If you see your man sittin' in the bush, 
Knock him in the head and give him a push, 
'Cause shootin' don't make it, no no. 
Shootin' don't make it, no no no no. 

The Golden Blades marched all day through main thorough- 
fares and narrow side streets. At the train tracks and Broadway 
came the news the spy boys had sighted the Little Red, White 
and Blues. 

The tribes met on either side of a vacant space of ground, and 
with a whoop and loud cries. 

'Me, Chief "Happy Peanut." My tribe Golden Blades.' 
The other replied: 'Me, Chief Battle Brown. My tribe Little 
Red, White and Blues.' 

Palms still extended, they spoke as one, 'Peace.' 
Then they met, put arms around each other's necks. Together 
they proceeded toward the nearest saloon, the two tribes behind 
them mingling and talking, the medicine men chanting a weird 

Shh-bam-hang the ham. 
Follow me, follow me, follow me. 
Wha-wha-wha-follow me. 
Wha-wha-wha-follow me. 
Shh-bam-hang the ham. 
Wha-wha-wha-follow me. 
Wha-wha-wha-follow me 

At the bar, the chiefs gulped jiggers of whiskey, then small 
beers as chasers. Members of both tribes crowded about and 
imbibed freely. 

When decision was made to depart, each tribe filed out a dif- 
ferent door, tambourines beating. 

In the street Chief ' Happy Peanut's' wife revealed to her hus- 
band that she didn't think Chief Battle Brown's mate was any- 
thing to brag about. 'Shux!' she sneered disgustedly. 'She 
didn't look so hot to me. She don't have no life in her. Man, 
she's gotta 

22 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Have it like I like it! 


Use it like I use it! 


Do it like I do it! 


Like a good queen should. 


The Queen, finishing her song, went into her dance. With hands 
lifted above her head, her fingers snapping to keep time, with 
tongue darting in a serpentlike movement in and out of her 
mouth and hips and stomach undulating, Queen 'Happy Pea- 
nut' executed an extremely unorthodox Indian dance. There was 
to be no doubt left in the minds of onlookers that she was red hot 
and full of life. 

Suddenly the medicine man began hopping around and moan- 
ing over a figure lying prostrate on the ground. Utter astonish- 
ment caused the Queen to interrupt her dance when the identity 
of the form was announced. It was her spy girl, who had wan- 
dered slightly ahead of the others. 

'What's the matter, she can't take it?' taunted a bystander. 

Upon him the medicine man turned the full venom of his 
wrath, ' Umm-m-m-n ! A-a-a-a-ah !' He made a sign, as if casting a 
spell over the tormentor, to the amusement of the gathering 

The Queen briefly glanced at the girl. 

'She didn't eat no breakfast this morning,' she explained. 
'She'll be all right. We is gonna eat at the next stop.' 

Upon reaching South Claiborne Avenue, the spy boy ran back 
to the flag boy, the flag boy whispered to the wild man, who sent 
a runner scampering back to the chief. The Creole Wild West 
Indians were coming! 

The Creole Wild Wests were already in a place, eating and 
drinking, when the Golden Blades caught up with them. The 
two tribes greeted each other in high spirits, with much shouting 
and laughter, all but Chief Brother Tillman. 

He leaned against the bar, his eyes, from which the power of 
vision was fast fading, troubled and brooding, his mind sad with 


The "Baby Doll" appears on Mardi Gras and again on St. Joseph's night 


A group of "Baby Dolls" 

Queen (second from right) and Maids of Honor at the Zulu Ball 




King Zulu, the Negro monarch of Mardi Gras 


On Mardi Gras it is traditional for Negroes to dress as Indians; they have done 

so for nearly a century 

Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens 25 

the realization that this was probably the last time he would be 
able to take part in this Mardi Gras tradition . As far back as any 
Indian can remember there has' always been a Brother Tillman. 

'They didn't want me to go out this year,' he said. 'They 
thought I couldn't see well enough. Well, we'll see who can see. 
This is my only pleasure. Oh, yes, I drink, but I don't drink for 
fun. I drink to hide the truth. Can you understand that? How 
about a drink? And let's have some music! Come on, Peanut. 
What's this, anyway? A funeral?' 

But as soon as the dancing started, he was talking again. 'It's 
just that I've seen so much of this. It's been my life. And to 
think I might not see it again. My sight isn't good now, you 
know, but I wouldn't let them know it because I might make 
another year. But let's cheer up! Have another drink?' 

When the time came to leave, Brother Tillman rose and led his 
band of Wild Creoles from the saloon, walking with erect dig- 
nity, his chin high. Though his costume was simple for a chief 
- plain buckskin trimmed with a black fringe, a crown of jet 
feathers on his head he bore himself with unaffected but 
proud nobility. 

Onward traveled the Golden Blades, chanting their strange 
songs, pausing to dance wildly, their tambourines relentlessly 
throbbing the monotonous rhythm. Drinking, eating, righting, 
loving, forgetting yesterday and tomorrow. 

Laughing and singing one moment, imbued with genuine sav- 
agery the next, the Indians are still feared by many Orleanians, 
who will go to great lengths to avoid a tribe coming in their 
direction. It is almost as if those dock laborers and office- 
building porters have reverted for a day to the jungles of their 

Here and there the Golden Blades met other tribes, the Golden 
Eagles, the Yellow Pocahontas, the Red Frontier Hunters. They 
forced their way into packed bars and out again, laughing, 

There were few mishaps, but a member or two strayed and 
vanished for the day. One daring 'brave' leaped aboard a truck 
filled with white maskers, who threw confetti on his crown and 
taunted him by derisively singing the famous old Creole cry, 

24 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

M.ardi Gras, Mardi Gras, 

Chou-a-la-paille t Chew the straw, 

Run away, Run away 

Taille la V sill And tell a lie! 

The day's marching ended just after nightfall outside of the 
Japanese Tea Garden on St. Philip and North Liberty Streets. 

Tired but still happy maskers gathered here. This is the Mecca 
of all Negroes on Mardi Gras Night, for here the Zulu Ball, the 
grand climax of the day, takes place. The Indians' eyes are 
weary now, and their feet tired, but they never allow themselves 
to relax. They keep imbibing all the liquor they can get their 
hands on, keep their songs and dances going. A Baby Doll or 
two straggles past, mingling with the crowd. A Baby Doll has 
to keep busy all the time. At last, from within the Tea Gardens, 
come the strains of the Grand March as the Zulu Ball begins. 

Inside the ceiling is decorated with colored paper, bright new 
lanterns shed vari-colored lights, palm leaves and coconuts con- 
tribute a tropical atmosphere, fresh sawdust is sprinkled on the 
floor and the six-piece orchestra is feeling extra hot. 

The King and Queen lead the Grand March, and the band 
swings out with a torrid selection. No staid monarch is King 
Zulu. He leaves that for the white balls, where the kings must 
remain on their thrones most of the evening. King Zulu is out 
there trucking on down and giving the women a break. He's 
really head man, and before the night is over he's likely to feel 
like a super-Casanova, so many are the invitations whispered 
into his ear. Sometimes he makes a premature exit, one particu- 
larly fascinating damsel having proved too much for his will 
power. Two years ago, when King Zulu departed, so did most 
of the champagne and cake. After two hours Johnny Metoyer, 
then ruling Zululand with an iron hand, phoned his house. 

'He ain't here,' his wife informed Johnny, with vengeance. 
'I'm looking for him, too.' 

Then Johnny did some thinking and he did some swearing. He 
and Charlie Fisher telephoned every saloon in town and visited a 
lot of them. At last His Majesty was located. He was in a beer 
parlor with four high yellow women, nine quarts of champagne 
and having the time of his life. The King was having a ball all 
by himself. 

Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens 2 / 

'Niggers like you,' was Royalty's retort to the bawling out 
administered by Metoyer and Fisher, 'ain't supposed to get 

The Queen does all right at the Zulu Ball, too. If a girl can't 
establish herself solid after this day and night, there is some- 
thing radically wrong. She can sort out her propositions and 
pick one or a dozen of the best. 

This Zulu Ball is the end of it. But it has been swell, all the 
maskers tell each other. The best year yet, they always agree. 
Zulus, Indians and Baby Dolls creep home jn the small hours of 
the morning, fall into bed and sleep most of the next day. There 
are few New Orleans Negroes at work or on the streets the day 
after the Carnival. 

But that night they begin to straggle into the various bars 
along Gravier and Poydras Streets. There is the usual blare of 
music boxes, hot dancing, arguments and 'corner loving.' 
Liquor again pours down parched throats. It isn't quite as excit- 
ing as Mardi Gras, but it isn't dull. There is never a dull night 
in the streets where the Zulus and the Indians and the Baby Dolls 
live and play, in the streets where every night is Saturday night. 

Most of the discussion is of the day before, but the subject 
always shifts to the Saint Joseph's Night to come, as everyone 
looks eagerly forward to the next time they can really cut loose. 

March 19, always an important date in the New Orleans cal- 
endar, has been a second Mardi Gras to Negroes for the past two 
decades. It is tradition that Zulus, Indians and Baby Dolls don 
their costumes that night and revive the spirit of Fat Tuesday for 
a few hours. 

There are no parades, of course, but they wander about on foot, 
visiting the bars, having dances and parties at various places, 
strutting their stuff. 

On Saint Joseph's Night, 1941, the music box roared as usual, 
and in the arms of criminals, hopheads and hoboes the Baby 
Dolls danced and carried on. A huge woman, dressed as a gypsy 
queen in garish colors and her black face reddened with rouge, 
did a solo number, popped her fingers and messed around. 
Harry, that genius with the tambourine, beat it vigorously, and 
executed his inimitable dance on the crowded floor. 

26 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

The Indians were there too. So were the 'Gold Diggers/ an 
organization that gave the Baby Dolls some competition. They 
wore similar costumes, and, as if to assist them along the way, 
were accompanied by a 'policeman' a male friend dressed in a 
burlesque uniform and cap, and carrying a club. They boasted 
escorts, too, each Gold Digger having a boy friend, who wore a 
'dress suit' of pale blue satin, a top hat, and flourished a cane. 
The Gold Diggers wore blue satin costumes trimmed with white 
fur, false curls, and also carried canes. The liveliest of the crowd 
was also the largest, a Gold Digger weighing well over two 
hundred pounds, who, nevertheless, strutted her stuff with the 
grace and vigor of a bawdy sprite. 

But the Western Girls, so called because one year they all came 
as Annie Oakley (these are a group of Negro female imperson- 
ators headed by 'Corinne the Queen'), are perhaps the gayest 
of all. In evening gowns and wigs they try to outdo the real 
girls. The ones who top their extremely dark faces with golden- 
blonde and flaming red wigs are the funniest. As for Corinne, she 
always maintains her regal bearing, explaining, 'I'm a real 
queen, and don't nobody never forget it!' The other 'girls' 
aren't the least bit jealous, either, but love Corinne dearly be- 
cause 'she's such a gay cat.' And Corinne has genuine claims to 
majesty. In 1931 'she' was Queen of the Zulus! That year the 
King said he was disgusted with women, so he selected Corinne 
to reign as his mate over all of the Negro Mardi Gras! 

Chapter 2 

Street Criers 


corner in one of the residential sections of New Orleans. The 
Negro vendor cups his hands before his mouth and bellows: 

Watermelon ! Watermelon ! Red to the rind, 

If you don't believe me jest pull down your blind! 

I sell to the rich, 
I sell to the po'; 
I'm gonna sell the lady 
Standin' in that do*. 

Watermelon, Lady! 

Come and git your nice red watermelon, Lady! 

Red to the rind, Lady! 

Come on, Lady, and get 'em! 

Gotta make the picnic fo' two o'clock, 

No flat tires today. 

Come on, Lady! 

Behind the hawker in the wagon is a tumbling pile of green 
serpent-striped melons; beside him on the seat is one halved to 

2 S Gumbo Ya-Ya 

show that it is 'red to the rind.' Despite this, the melon you 
purchase will be 'plugged' as proof that yours is ripe. The ped- 
dler opens his mouth again to inform you that 

I got water with the melon, red to the rind! 

If you don't believe it jest pull down your blind. 

You eat the watermelon and preee serve the rind! 

The vendor selling cantaloupe is an Italian. He sings out, 

Cantal ope ah! 
Fresh and fine, 
Just offa de vine, 
Only a dime! 

The operator of a wagon selling a variety of vegetables offers 
this one: 

Nice little snapbeans, 
Pretty little corn, 
Butter beans, carrots, 
Apples for the ladies! 
Jui-ceee lemons ! 

Another, with curious humor, yells, 'I got artichokes by the 

The streets reverberate with their cries: 'Come and gettum, 
Lady! I got green peppers, snapbeans, tur-nips! I got oranges! 
I got celery! I got fine ripe yellow banana! Tur-nips, Lady! 
Ba-na-na, Lady!' 

These peddlers use every means imaginable to ca"rt their wares 
- trucks, mules and wagons, pushcarts and baskets. A Negress 
will balance one basket on her head, carry two others, one in 
each hand, hawking any vegetables and fruit in season. Particu- 
larly discordant screams rend the mornings when it is blackberry 

Blackber reeees ! Fresh and fine. 

I got blackber reeeees, Lady! 

Fresh from th' vine! 

I got blackberries, Lady! 

Three glass fo' a dime. 

I got blackberries ! 

Street Criers 29 

I got blackberries! 


Negro youths often work in pairs, one on each side of a street, 
each carrying baskets and crying alternately or in unison: 'I got 
mustard greens 'n Creole cabbage! Come on, Lady. Look what 
I got!' Or, 'Irish pota-tahs! Dime a bucket! Lady, you ought a 
see my nice Irish po-ta-tahs!' 

Many housewives purchase their food supplies from these itin- 
erant vendors, the prices often being a bit below those of the 
shops and markets. Many have regular peddlers or basket- 
'totin* ' Negresses who come daily to the kitchen door. They 
will often, even to this day, present favorite customers with a bit 
of parsley or a small bunch of shallots as lagniappe. 

A truck at a curb in the business section of New Orleans is 
operated by an Italian who offers 'Mandareeeens nickel a 
dozen!' A Negro in a spring wagon in the next block outdoes 
him with 'Mandareens twenty-five fo' a dime!' 

When strawberries appear, preceding the blackberry season, 
peddlers, both white and colored, both male and female, appear 
all over the city. Even Sunday mornings resound with cries of 

I got strawberries, Lady! 
Strawberries, Lady! 
Fifteen cents a basket 
Two baskets for a quarter. 

The housewives emerge, peer into the small boxes of berries, 
inspecting carefully, always raising the top layer of fruit to see 
the ones beneath. There is a little trade trick of putting the red- 
dest and biggest berries on top, green, dry or small ones the 
culls underneath to which all Louisiana housekeepers are 

Between the strawberry and blackberry seasons cries of 'J ew ~ 
berry, Lady! Nice jewberries!' may be heard. This is the dew- 
berry season. 

In Abbeville, an elderly French woman drives a mule before an 
ancient, creaky wagon, and peddles fruit and vegetables each 
morning, calling her wares in a weird mixture of French and 
Cajun English. Known as Madame Mais-La, she pulls up before 

3 o - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

a house and announces: 'Hello, dere! Voule^-vous legumes au- 
jourd' huil Des bonnes carrots. Des bonnes pa-pates douce s. Des 
pommes de terre. Des choux-fleurs . Nonl Pas ga aujourd'hui. Bien. 
Geedy up, dere!' 

The vending of food in New Orleans streets is a custom as old 
as the city itself. In earlier days the peddlers were even more 
numerous. Buying from these wandering marchandes was ex- 
tremely convenient. Prices were low, the produce of good qual- 
ity; often it was possible, after a bit of wrangling, to strike off a 

Earlier counterparts of present-day hawkers were the Green 
Sass Men, no longer in existence. The Daily Picayune of July 2.4, 
1846, describes them thus: 

Their stocks were very small, consisting generally of vegeta- 
bles, a small amount of fruit such as figs, peaches and melons 
and by way of variety, although not strictly a vegetable 
product cream cheeses. These commodities were generally 
carried in old champagne baskets balanced on the heads of the 
Green Sass Men, and their cry, as near as it can be translated, is 
' 'Ears ycrfineniceartaties, artichokes, cantelopes, feegs and 
arnicerkereama cheeses! 'Ear! 'Ear!' 

Most of the French and American slave-owners of long ago 
were a thrifty lot, and those slaves too old to be of other use were 
often put out into the city streets to peddle the surplus products 
of the plantations. Throughout the year, day in, day out, their 
cries resounded through the streets of New Orleans. All masters 
were required to purchase licenses for their slaves, but often 
added thousands of dollars per year to their incomes by so doing. 
De Bore, of sugar fame, who owned a huge plantation in New 
Orleans w^here Audubon Park now spreads, 'produced at least 
six thousand dollars per annum' in this fashion, according to one 
authority. Newspapers of the period criticized slave street- 
vending as a ' very picayunish business,' but it lifted many of the 
Negroes' owners into affluence. 

Each season had its special commodities. Early spring saw the 
arrival of strawberries, of Japanese plums. Later, watermelons, 
dewberries, blackberries and figs appeared. Wild ducks, rice 

Street Criers 31 

birds and other game were sold on the streets during winter. At 
the French Market Choctaw Indian squaws sat stoically at the 
curbs, offering gumbo file powdered sassafras, frequently used 
instead of okra to thicken gumbo other herbs and roots, bas- 
kets and pottery. Fat Negresses in starched white aprons and 
garish tignons sold cakes, molasses and coffee dripped while you 
waited. Other peddlers offered everything from cheap jewelry to 
live canaries in cages. Chickens, alive but limply resigned to 
fate, trussed up in bunches like carrots, were carried up and down 
the city streets by men who poked their heads into the windows 
of homes and yelled, 'Cheeec-ken, Madame? Nice fat spring 

The peddlers of fish probably were the most insistent. The 
Daily Picayune of April 4, 1889, reports: 

During the Lenten season, when fish were in great demand, 
the basket peddlers of the finny product do an excellent busi- 
ness, especially in selling the inferior kinds of fish. Their 
wares are not always of the freshest and in many cases on the 
verge of decomposition, yet they succeed in imposing upon the 
careful housewife or servant by stout protestations that their 
fish are perfectly fresh. . . . They ring at doorbells and if not 
promptly answered jerk the wire as though they would pull 
the bell from its fastenings. A simple refusal to purchase in- 
censes them, and they thrust their offensive-smelling fish in the 
faces of persons, and if they are still refused frequently give 
vent to curses and abuse of those whom they seek to impose on. 

A salesman of oysters, carrying his merchandise in tin pails, 
was also common at one time, crying, 

Oyta! Sally! Oy ta! Sally! 
Or sometimes, 

Oyster Man! Oyster Man! 

Get your fresh oysters from the Oyster Man! 

Bring out your pitcher, bring out your can, 

Get your nice fresh oysters from the Oyster Man! 

There was the Icecream Man, humorously depicted by L<on 
Fremeaux, in a volume of sketches titled New Orleans Characters, 

$ 2 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

as a barefooted Negro wearing patched trousers, holding in one 
hand a white cloth, carrying in his other a basket, and on his 
head, at a perilous balance, an icecream freezer! His cry was 

Creme % la glace; 
Creme a la vanille! 

Or, facetiously, 

Icecream, lemonade, 
Brown sugar and rotten aig! 

Fresh milk and buttermilk were sold on the streets, the fresh 
milk from horse-drawn wagons described by the Daily Picayune 
as ' . . . a tall green box, set between high wheels and almost 
always driven by Gascons. The two large bright brassbound 
cans that ornamented the front of the wagon, compelled the 
driver to stand up much of the time in order to see clearly before 
him.' The Buttermilk Man carried his large can of buttermilk 
through the streets several times a week, crying, 'Butter-milk! 
Butter-milk, Lady?' 

Very early in the life of the Creole city, even water was sold in 
this fashion, being dispensed from carts loaded with huge hogs- 
heads. Wine, too, was often vended. 


The most famous of these were the cala vendors. A cala is a 
pastry which originated among Creole Negroes a thin fritter 
made with rice and yeast sponge. Creoles did not have the pre- 
pared yeast cakes sold today, so yeast was concocted the night 
before, of boiled potatoes, corn meal, flour and cooking soda, 
left in the night air to ferment, then mixed with the boiled rice 
and made into a sponge. The next morning flour, eggs, butter 
and milk were added, a stiff batter mixed, and the calas formed 
by dropping spoonfuls into a skillet. 

'Belles calas , Madam! Tout chauds, Madame, Two cents!' thus 
called the cala vendors for years. A long cry was, 

Belles calas, Beautiful rice fritters, 

Madame, mo gaignin calas, Madame, I have rice fritters, 

Street Criers 55 

Madame, mo gaignin calas, Madame, I have rice fritters, 

Madame, mo gaignin calas; Madame, I have rice fritters; 

Mo guaranti vous ye bons I guarantee you they are good 

Beeelles calas . . . Beeelles calas. Fine rice fritters . . . Fine rice fritters. 

Madame, mo gaignin calas, Madame, I have rice fritters, 

Madame, mo gaignin calas, Madame, I have rice fritters, 

Si vous pas gaignin 1'argent, If you have no money, 

Goutez c'est la mem' chose, Taste, it's all the same, 

Madame, mo gaignin calas tou, tou Madame, I have rice fritters, quite, 
cho. quite hot. 

Beeles calas . . . Beeelles calas,' Fiiiine rice fritters . . . Fiiiine rice frit- 


Tou cho, tou cho, tou cho. All hot, all hot, quite hot. 

Madame, mo gaignin calas, Madame, I have rice fritters, 

Madame, mo gaignin calas, Madame, I have rice fritters, 

Tou cho, tou cho, tou cho. Quite hot, quite hot, quite hot. 

Clementine, a Negress, well-dressed in a bright tignon, fichu of 
white lawn, tied with a large breast pin, a starched blue ging- 
ham skirt and stiff snowy apron, would sing, 

Beeeeeelles calas Beeeeeelles calas Aaaaaa! 

Madame, mo gaignin calas, 

Madame, mo gaignin calas, 

Tou cho, tou cho, tou cho. 

Beeeeeelles calas Belles calas 

A madame mo gaignin calas, 

Mo guaranti vous ye bons! 

Another Negress sold her calas in front of the old Saint Louis 
Cathedral, cooking them in a pan over a small furnace, while the 
customer waited. Without raising her voice she would mutter 
hoarsely and incessantly, ' Mo gaignin calas . . . Madame, mo 
gaignin calas . . . Calas, calas, calas, calas, tou cho, calas, calas, 
calas; Mo gaignin calas, Madame . . . calas, calas, calas, calas. 

Some vendors sold not only calas of rice, but also calas of cow- 
peas, crying, 

Calas tout chauds, Madame, 
Calas au ri% calas aux feves! 

} 4 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Another cry was 

Too shoo-o-o-o-oh 
Tout chauds all hot! 
Galas calas tout chauds, 
Belles calas tout chauds, 
Madame, mo gaignin calas, 
Madame, mo gaignin calas, tou 
Chauds tou chauds! 

One of the last professional cala vendors on New Orleans 
streets was Richard Gabriel, a colored descendant of these Creole 
Negroes. He improved the system somewhat, pushing a cart 
similar to the sort used by the peanut vendors, and chanting in 
more modern fashion, 

We sell it to the rich, we sell it to the poor, 

We give it to the sweet brownskin, peepin' out the door. 

Tout chaud, Madame, tout chaud! 

Git 'em while they're hot! Hot calas! 

One cup of coffee, fifteen cents calas, 
Make you smile the livelong day. 
Calas, tout chauds, Madame, Tout chauds! 
Git 'em while they're hot! Hot calas! 

Other songs are 

The little Jamaica boy he say, 

More you eatta, more you wanta eatta. 

Get 'em while they're hotta. Hot calas! 

Tout chauds, Madame, tout chauds. 


Tell 'em what they do you, take off that Saturday frown, 

Put on that Sunday morning smile, to last the whole day 'round. 

Tout chauds, Madame, tout chauds! 

That's how two cups of cafe, fifteen cents calas can make 

You smile the livelong day. 

Tout chauds, Madame, tout chauds! 

Get 'em while they're hot! Hot calas! 

Street Criers - } / 

There used to be two cala women who would sing alternately : 

ist: Galas, Galas, all nice and hot 

Galas, Galas, all nice and hot 
2.d : Lady, me I have calasl Laaa-dy, me I have calasl 

All nice 'n hot all nice 'n hot all nice 'n hot. . . . 

Well known was the Cymbal Man, who, according to the 
Daily Picayune of July 2.4, 1846, confined his rambles to the 
French section of New Orleans, offering also 'doughnuts and 
crullers,' which were favorites with the Creoles. His musical 
'toooo-shoooo-oooo' never failed to bring most of them out. 

The Corn Meal Man, noted for his wit and humor, would 
prowl the streets, blowing on a small brass trumpet worn on a 
cord about his neck. His greeting was usually, 'Bon jour, 
Madame, Mam - Belief Fresh corn meal, right from the mill. 
Oui, Mam - %elle. r accompanied by a hearty laugh. The Daily 
Delta of June 3, 1850, reports him doing business on horse- 
back, saying, ' . . . his fat, glossy horse looks as if he partook 
of no scant portion of the corn meal!' A very early corn meal 
peddler was known as Signer Cornmeali. 

Among the most famous of the cake vendors were the Gaufre 
Men or Shaving Cake Men, who sold not shaving soap, but 
pastries that had the appearance of timber shavings. These were 
kept in a tin box strapped to the back, while the Gaufre Man 
announced his approach by beating on a metal triangle as he 
strode the city streets. The last Gaufre Man, bewhiskered but 
always clean and neatly attired, never revealed the secret of his 
thin, crisp, cone-shaped pastries. When he died, the recipe died 
with him, and gaufres are now unknown in New Orleans. 

Hot potato cakes, made usually of sweet potatoes, were sold 
by Negro women. These vendors, Emmet Kennedy says, were 
heard mostly in the French Quarter around nightfall. In his 
Mellows he describes their cry as follows : 

Bel pam pa-tat, 
Bal pam pa-tat, Madame, 
Ou-lay-ou Le Bel Pam Patat, 
Pam patat! 

3 6 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Everything the old Creole Negresses sold was either 'bel' 
beautiful or 'bon' good. 

A bread made of Irish potatoes was also sold, to the following 

Pain pafatte, Potato bread, 

Pain patatte., Madame, Potato bread, Madam, 

Achetez pain patatte, Buy potato bread, 

Madame, mo gaignin pain patatte. Madam, I have potato bread. 

Hot pies were another favorite commodity, the vendor carry- 
ing his wares in a cloth-covered basket, crying, 'Ho' pies 
chauds! Ho' pies chauds!' 

There are modern versions of these last. Each day pie peddlers 
appear on the docks of New Orleans, moving among the long- 
shoremen, carrying their pies and often sandwiches and 
candy in a basket. Occasionally a pie man will appear in one 
of the residential sections, with a monotonous cry of ' Hot pies 
- hot pies hot pies hot pies!' A Negro woman, always 
dressed in snowy white, hawks pies and sandwiches through the 
business district of the city, rolling her merchandise along in a 
baby carriage. 

At least one man still sells bread on the streets. Pushing a cart 
he calls out, ' Bread Man ! Bread Man ! I got French bread, Lady. 
I got sliced bread. I got raisin bread. Lady! I got rolls, Lady! 
Bread Man, Lady!' 

The Waffle Man is a fine old man. 
He washes his face in a frying-pan, 
He makes his waffles with his hand, 
Everybody loves the Waffle Man. 

For years those who believed this little ditty ran out at the 
shrill blast of the Waffle Man's bugle. Children eagerly thrust 
their nickels forward to purchase one of his delicious hot waffles 
sprinkled liberally with powdered sugar. His wagon, horse- 
drawn, was usually white and yellow and set on high wheels. 
One Waffle Man still appears daily in New Orleans, vending 
waffles from a brilliant red-and-yellow wagon. But now he ca- 
ters mostly to fully grown males of the stock-exchange neighbor- 

Street Criers -57 


The Candy Man, according to the Daily Picayune of July 15, 
1846, 'carried his caraway comfits and other sweets in a large 
green tin chest upon which was emblazoned, in the brightest 
yellow, two razors affectionately crossed over each other.' Un- 
like the other vendors, this Candy Man had no cry, but attracted 
attention by beating on a metal triangle. Until a few years ago, 
later Candy Men,' driving squarish, high wagons, paused at cor- 
ners, blew piercing blasts on trumpets and sold taffy in long, 
wax-paper-wrapped sticks. 

Pralines have been sold on New Orleans streets through all the 
city's history, and always the delicious Creole confections of 
brown sugar and pecans have been vended by Negresses of the 
'Mammy' type. Today they appear, garbed in gingham and 
starched white aprons and tignons^ usually in the Vieux Carre, 
though now they represent modern candy shops. 'Belles pra- 
lines!' they cry. 'Belles pralines/' Day by day they sit in the 
shadows of the ancient buildings, fat black faces smiling at the 
passers-by, fanning their candies with palmetto fans or strips of 
brown wrapping paper. Usually, besides the pralines, Mammy 
dolls and other souvenirs are sold. 

Flowers are not sold on the streets as frequently as they are in 
some other cities, but in the Vieux Carre elderly flower women 
and young girls and boys peddle corsages of rosebuds and camel- 
lias in the small bars and cafes, chanting at your table, ' Flowers? 
Pretty flowers for the lady?' 


Char-coal, Lady! Char-coal! Chah-ah-coal, Lady! 

Until recently practically everyone employed Negro wash- 
women, who boiled clothes and other washing over small fur- 
naces in the backyards, and charcoal was always in demand. 
Almost every day this familiar cry rang through the streets. 
Lafcadio Hearn described one cry of the Charcoal Man's as 

$8 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Black coalee coalee! 

Coaly coaly; coaly coaly coal coal -7- coal. 

Coaly coaly! 

Coal eee! Nice! 

Chah coal ! 

Twenty-five! Whew! 

O Charco-oh-oh-oh-h-oh-lee! 

Oh lee eee! 

(You get some coal in your mout', young fellow, if you 

don't keep it shut!) 
Pretty coalee -oh lee! 
Charcoal ! 

Cha ah ahr coal ! 

Charbon! Du charbon, Madame! Bon charbori? Point! Ai-ai! 
Tonnerre de dieu! 
Cha-r-r-r-r-r-r-rbon I 
A- a- a- a- a- a- a- aw I 
Vingt-cinq! Nice coalee! Coalee! 
Coaly-coal-coal ! 
Pretty coaly! 
Charbon de Paris! 
De Parts ^ Madame; de Paris! 

Leonard Parker, a Negro, remembered the following one: 

Char-coal! Charcoal! 
My horse is white, my face is black. 
I sell my charcoal, two-bits a sack 
Char-coal ! Char-coal ! 

Though modern use of laundry facilities has made the Charcoal 
Man a rarity now, he may be seen occasionally and heard - 
seated on a broken-down wagon, drawn by an equally broken- 
down horse, often adorned with a straw bonnet, singing out 
his repetitious chant of ' Char-coal, Lady! Char-coal !' Today his 
merchandise is neatly packed in paper sacks. 

Then there is his brother, once just as evident in the city, now 
just as rare, who cries, 'Stone-coal, Lady! Stone-coal!' and who 
is being gradually forced out of existence by present use of steam 
and gas heat, instead of the old-fashioned grate fires. 

Street Criers 


'Daily he goeth forth out beyond the limits of the city, into 
lonesome and swampy places where copperheads and rattle- 
snakes abound. And, there he cutteth him clothespoles, where- 
with he marcheth through the city, in the burning glare of the 
sun, singing a refrain simple in words but weird in music.' So 
wrote Hearn of the Clothes Pole Man. 

This queer merchant, always colored, wanders through the 
streets, usually wearing an ancient derby, ragged coat and 
trousers. Fremeaux's sketch shows him in the derby, a light 
laven.der shirt, dark frock coat and patched pants. On one 
shoulder is a folded cloth on which rest his poles. 

' Cl' s po-u-u-les ! ' he cries . ' Cl' s po-u-ules ! ' 

Housewives buy the poles at prices which range from ten to 
twenty-five cents. A favorite cry is 

Clothes poles ! Clothes poles ! 

Hear the man comin' with the clothes poles! 

Only a nickel, only a dime! 
Clothes poles Clothes pole man! 
Clothes pole man sellin' clothes poles! 

Clothes poles, Lady! 
Nice clean clothes poles! 

The poles are cleaned and ' skinned' after being cut, and must 
be forked at one end. There is evidence that the same pole may 
be sold several times, if the merchant is smart enough. One 
housewife, after her poles had been disappearing in a peculiar 
fashion, watched the yard one moonlight night and captured a 
small Negro making off with several of them. He confessed he 
sold them back to the same Clothes Pole Man who had been 
selling them to her. 


Wherever he has appeared, the Chimney Sweep has been a 
fascinating and picturesque character. It is still possible to see 

4 o - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

the New Orleans variety, and he has changed very little in ap- 
pearance despite the many years his cries have echoed through 
the city's streets. Unlike the sweep of London, he wears a tall, 
battered silk hat, a swallowtail coat, and he is always a Negro, 
usually as black as the soot in which he works. There is always 
the coil of rope on one shoulder, several bunches of palmetto and 
a sheaf of broom straw. As he wanders through the neighbor- 
hood he shouts: 

Ra-mi-neau! Ra-mi-neau! Ra-mi-neau! 
Lady, I know why your chimney won't draw, 
Oven won't bake and you can't make no cake, 
An' I know why your chimney won't draw! 

Hired, he scurries agilely up to the roof, sometimes assisted by 
a smaller, younger, but equally black edition of himself, and as 
he works he sings. One odd song common to the New Orleans 
Chimney Sweep is : 

Val-seur, Waltz, Waltzer, 

Val-se^ pour ce-le-brer Waltz to celebrate 

La S'fe Marie. St. Mary's Day. 

Dieu sait si I'annee prochaine God knows if next year 

Nous celebrerons la S'fe Mane! We will celebrate St. Mary's Day! 

Others cry : ' R-R-R-R-Raminay ! R-r-r-r-r-ramone^ la chiminee du 
haut en has!' 'Ramonez,' 'Raminay,' 'R_amineaux' and 'Rami- 
neau* seem all to be corruptions of the French 'Ramoneur' or 
Chimney Sweeper. 

Some travel in pairs and alternate their call thus : 

ist Sweep: Ramone^ la cheminee . . . Rrrrrrramone^ la cheminee! 
id Sweep: Valsefj valseur, valse^ pour celebrer la S'fe Marie. . . . 

A contemporary team of sweeps, Willie Hall and Albert 
Hut chins, sing: 

Get over, get over slick, 

Save dat chimney, save it quick. 

Willie and Albert chant the 'Chimney Sweeper's Blacks,' ap- 
parently their own composition. 

Street Criers 4 1 

Here's yo' chimney sweeps, 

We goes up to the roofs, 

Sweep the smokestacks down right now, 

Don't care for soot, anyhow. 

Rami neau! Rami neau! Rami neau! 

Sweep 'em clean! Sweep 'em clean! 
Save the firemen lots of work, 
We hate soot, we never shirk, 
Sweep 'em clean! Sweep 'em clean! 

Willie cheerfully waxed biographical. 

' I been a chimney sweeper for forty-five years now. I'm most 
eighty years old, and I've made me a good livin'. There was a 
season to it, but I've always had my regular customers. I done 
swept some of the best chimneys in town.' 

One reason the Chimney Sweep keeps singing as he works is 
to let anyone who might be below know the chimney is being 
cleaned and to protect him from being showered with soot. All 
during his work the songs go on and the cry comes, 



The Bottle Man is still seen now and then. Either Italian or 
Negro, driving a horse and wagon, he cries, as the horse bobs 
sleepily along, 'Any old bot'? Any old bot' today?' 

Now he pays rather reluctantly in cash. But in other 
days his approach was a signal for the children to run forth at the 
blast of his horn in as an enthusiastic response as ever answered 
the Pied Piper of Hamlin. The Bottle Man of a past era pushed a 
cart along the banquette^ and his payment for 'old bot's' was 
much more interesting than mere money. For while his cart had 
an upper section devoted to a huge bin which held his collected 
bottles, the lower section was a drawer filled with the most 
amazing collection of trinkets ever possessed by anyone except 
Santa Claus. For their bottles the youngsters received tops, 
whistles, horns, rattles or pink-and-white peppermints! Bar- 
gaining was spirited and educational. The children's aim was to 

42. - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

get as many toys as possible for their bottles; the Bottle Man's, 
to give as little. 

During the nineties a fleet of thirty or forty luggers visited the 
plantations above and below the city, collecting bottles. The 
Daily Picayune, July iz, 1891, described how nearly every week 
three or four of the boats discharged their cargo of old bottles at 
the wharves in New Orleans. Many dealers employed twenty or 
more collectors and there was always a good market for beer 
bottles, whiskey and champagne bottles, condiment and relish 
bottles of all sorts. Medicine bottles were never resold, the lone 
exception to what the Bottle Man would buy. 

Most of the Bottle Men of today have added other merchandise 
to their business generally rags and bones. Usually the cry is 

Any bottles, any bones, any rags today? 
Any old bottles 
Any old bones today? 

There are men, too, who specialize in rags, chanting: 

Old Rag Man! Get your rags ready! 

For the old Rag Man ! 

Money to be made ! 

Get your rags ready for the old Rag Man ! 

A kindred soul is the itinerant Junk Man, who may purchase 
any scrap iron, discarded pieces of furniture and such valuables. 


In a feex tin-a-feex! 
Tin-a-Feex Man! 

So he sang through the neighborhoods, usually Italian, carry- 
ing a small furnace, a few tools and some solder. The cry of 
'Tin-a-Feex! Tin-a-Feex Man!' used to bring forth all the pots 
and pans in the neighborhoods through which he passed. 


The Broom Man is blind, tall and growing old. Bent under 
the weight of the brooms and mops he carries on his back, he 

Street Criers 4 5 

rambles along, thumping loudly on the pavements with a cane, 
as much to attract attention as to feel his way. Often he appears 
wearing a baseball catcher's mask over his chalky, sightless 
face, across the top of which runs a strap which helps to hold 
his wares in place. His cry is monotonous, a mere gibberish, 
punctuated with sharp explosions. 

Mopanbroom! Mopanbroom! MopanbroOM! 
Herecotnes themopanbroom ! 
GetyourmopanbrOOM ! 


Negro women owned most of the coffee stands that were scat- 
tered through old New Orleans. These women dispensed cups 
of freshly made coffee from little street stands to the melodious 
chant of 'Cafe noir!' and 'Cafe au lattT In her The Story of the 
French Market Catherine Cole writes : ' . . . Old Rose, whose mem- 
ory is embalmed in the amber of many a song and picture and 
story, kept the most famous coffee stall of the old French Market. 
She was a little Negress who had earned money to buy her free- 
dom from slavery. Her coffee was like the benediction that fol- 
lows after prayer; or if you prefer it, the Benedictine after dinner.' 

Zabette and Rose Gla were two other well-known coffee 
women. Zabette had her stand in front of the Cathedral. In the 
curious journalese of the day, the Daily Picayune describes Rose 
Gla as ' ... one of the comeliest of her race, black as Erebus, but 
smiling always and amicable as dawn. Her coffee was the es- 
sence of the fragrant bean, and since her death the lovers of that 
divine beverage wander listlessly around the stalls on Sunday 
mornings with a pining at the bosom which cannot be satisfied.' 

Zabette is described as dispensing ' choice black coffee in tiny 
cups to her clients' and a notable sale is recorded when 'an old 
song was composed extempore by a representative Creole on a 
certain morning succeeding a sleepless night, which she took as 
the price of a cup of coffee and which began in this wise : 

Piti fille, piti fille, piti fillc, Little girl, little girl, little girl, 

Pitt fillc qui court dan dolo. , . .' Little girl who ran in the water. , . . 

44 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Zabette also sold homemade pastries and btere du pays beer 
brewed from pineapples. 

During the eighteen-forties a quadroon woman had a stand 
on Canal Street, a block from where Henry Clay's statue once 
stood. A woman named Manet te operated a coffee stall in the 
French Market. Children sent to market would always keep a 
picayune from the market money given them for a sip of her de- 
licious and fragrant brew before starting homeward under the 
weight of their well-filled baskets. 


Before the coming of the factories that sawed wood into stove 
lengths, wood sawyers made the rounds, ringing bells in the 
gates and calling loudly: 'Any wood today, Mam? C'n saw two 
cords for a dollar an' one cord for fifty cents. Yes'm. Thank yo', 
mam! I'll just pitch right in.' 

Carrying in his saw and buck, sticking an old pipe in his 
mouth he would start right in, singing all the while: 

Oh-o-oh, Mah Lady, 
Oh-o-oh, Mah Lady, 
Oh-o-oh, Mah Lady Jo-o-oe! 

Dinner was usually part of his price. ' Yes, 'm, I shore could 
use a bite. This sure is good ham. Yes, 'm. Thank yo', mam!' 


For years a man with a grindstone mounted on a wheelbarrow- 
like frame went about the streets, blowing a three- or four-note 
whistle which signified to housewives that the knife grinder was 
in the neighborhood. Another knife sharpener of early days 
carried only two small pieces of steel fastened together in a sort 
of Saint Andrew's cross. Into this cross he would thrust the 
knife, leaving it thin and keen. 

Occasionally a knife grinder is still heard rambling through 
the city, usually crying: 'Any knifes to sharp'? Any knifes to 
sharp' today?' 

Street Criers 4$ 


The Umbrella Man is usually a somewhat seedy gentleman, 
inquiring in loud and nasal tones : ' Ombrellas to maynde? Any 
old ombrellas to maynde?' On his stooped back is his load of 
umbrellas and parasols, for unless the work required is very 
minor, he must take them home or to his shop. 


Zozo la Brique (Zozo the Brick) was a well-known character 
among the Creoles some years ago. She peddled the red brick 
dust so popularly used to scrub stoops and walks in certain sec- 
tions of New Orleans. Zozo insisted upon being paid in nickels, 
which it is said she hoarded. There is even a story that Zozo's 
miserliness increased until she eventually starved herself to 
death, and that a considerable sum at least several hundred 
dollars was found hidden in her mattress, all in nickels. Zozo 
carried a pail of brick dust in each hand and another balanced on 
her head. Generally considered to be slightly demented, chil- 
dren were always teasing her because of her nickname of 'Zozo' 
- which of course meant ' bird.' Anita Fanvergne recalled that 
youngsters would run behind her in the street, yelling, ' Zozo, 
look at that bird up there !' Zozo would only reply, ' Tsh ! Tsh !' 
She is said to have loved children, and never to have become 
angry with them. As much as she prized them, she would often 
spend her precious nickels for sticks of peppermint candy to give 
to the youngsters who taunted her. 

There were many other street merchants, some itinerant, oth- 
ers stationary, with stands or stalls or simply 'squatters' rights' 
along the curbs of the city. Marchands carrying their stocks on 
their backs and heads, in pushcarts and horse-drawn wagons, 
satisfied most of the needs of the Creole households. 

Practically everything was sold in this way in earlier days. 
There were the Bird Men, who affected a Spanish costume - 
sombrero, blue nankeen frocks, and pantaloons tucked into rough 
boots. Trapping their merchandise in the swamps and country- 

4 6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

side just out of the city limits, the Bird Men carried them 
through the streets in small cages suspended from poles across 
their shoulders. The Daily Picayune of July 15, 1846, mentions a 
hawker who 'offered everything from dry goods to gold 
watches,' carried on a circular portable bench or table, in the 
center of which he walked as he rambled through the neighbor- 
hoods,- crying loudly, ' Au rabais! Au rabais!' (The rabais man 
always claimed to undersell his competitors. The cry ' Au 
rabais!' might best be translated as 'Off price!' Today, Orlean- 
ians are likely to refer to any small notions or drygoods store as 
a ' rabais shop. ') 

Bayou peddlers came down the waterways, singing their 
songs. Others journeyed down the Mississippi in boats: the Jew 
with his hundred-blade penknife and scores of other articles; the 
Yankee with his curious knick-knacks. French, Spaniards, 
Americans, Negroes, Mexicans, Indians all offered their 
wares. Along the streets Italians sold gaudily painted plaster 
saints. On hot summer evenings wandering marchands hawked 
palmetto fans, calling, ' Latanier! Latanier!' 

Candle vendors crying, 'Belle chandelles! Belle chandelles!' 
(Beautiful candles ! Beautiful candles !) offered candles of myrtle 
wax, guaranteed to make even the 'darkness visible.' Negresses 
sold bowls of hot gumbo on the streets, delicious pastries and 
estomac muldtre^ a gingerbread humorously known by that name 
(mulatto belly). And the crayfish vendors brought housewives 
out to purchase the principal ingredient for their delicious cray- 
fish bisque with cries of ' 'Crebiche, Madame! Belle 'crebiche!' (Cray- 
fish vendors are still seen and heard, hawking the delicacy 
already boiled from tin buckets, crying: 'Red hot! Red hot!' 
People hearing them say: 'Here comes Red Hot!') 

Rich basses and shrill trebles, whining, pleading, cajoling, 
screaming, the cries blended and mingled into a symphony of 
the city: 

Au Rabais! Au Rabais! 

Latanier! Latanier! 

Ramone^! Rampne^! 

Belles des Figues! Belles des Figuesf 

Bons -pet its calas! 

Street Criers 47 

Tout chauds! Tout chauds! 
Comfitures coco! 
Pralines, Pistaches! 
Pralines, Pacanes! 

And from these first sellers of fans and figs, of pastries and 
pralines, of candles and calas, descended the vendors of today. 

On hot summer nights children and adults, too wait for 
the Snowball Man, who peddles scoops of crushed ice over which 
your choice of sweet syrup is poured. The price is usually from 
three to five cents, and for an extra penny you may have two 
kinds of syrup. Most Snowball Men use pushcarts, gaily deco- 
rated with colored crepe paper or oilcloth. The syrups straw- 
berry, raspberry, spearmint, chocolate, vanilla, pineapple, or- 
ange, lemon and nectar are sometimes given other names, 
occasionally after movie stars, such as 'Mae West Syrup/ In the 
Carrollton section 'Charlie' has been king of the Snowball Men 
for years. He sells his wares from a small truck, stopping at 
corners, and ringing a bell. Children say: 'Here comes Charlie!' 
when they hear his bell a block or two away and run inside to 
beg pennies from their parents; many gather on street corners to 
wait for Charlie when it is time for him. No railroad ever had 
a better time schedule. At the intersection of Carrollton and 
Claiborne Avenues, people say: 'It must be about eight o'clock. 
There's Charlie!' 

Icecream vendors are, of course, popular, too. They usually 
ride bicycles to which a box containing their cream is attached, 
though many use a pushcart arrangement or drive a wagon. 
Most ring a bell instead of calling out. However, Arthur Hay- 
ward cries: 'Ha! Ha! Here comes Arthur! Mamma, that's the 
man!" Arthur has even advertised in the Personal Columns of 
New Orleans newspapers as follows : 

A well known man by the name of Arthur Hayward, better 
known as the 1 Ha Ha man. He has his new Aeroplane. He will 
be out Sunday. Mother, look for him. That's the man they 
call Ha Ha, all the school children's friend. Mother, that's 
him going up Magazine Ave. Mother, that's him. Now he's 
on Laurel St., Mother, sitting in his new aeroplane. 

4 8 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Mexicans sell hot tamales from white pushcarts at many inter- 
sections in the residential neighborhoods. All Orleanians know 
the vendor of chewing gum who extends five packages on five 
wire prongs, crying incessantly, ' GUMGUMGUMGUMGUMGUM- 
GUMGUMGUMGUM . . . ' and who consequently has earned the 
name of Gumgumgum. On the banquette before auction sales 
there is always a colored man or boy who beats a drum to attract 
attention Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! ad infinitum. 
This custom, old as the city, continues unchanged. One of Fre- 
meaux' sketches published in 1876 an aged Negro beating a 
drum just outside such a sale might almost have been drawn 

Spasm bands, composed of small Negro boys using makeshift 
instruments, who tap-dance and 'put it on* for pedestrians, are 
often seen in the streets of the Vieux Carre. They run behind 
strollers and, catching up, immediately go into violent twistings 
and contortions, accompanied by pleas of ' Gimme a penny, 
Mister! Gimme a nickel, Mister!' Some do their dances with- 
out any musical accompaniment at all, and some of the dances 
are definitely individual. 

In the French Quarter cafes and bars peddlers offer hardboiled 
eggs and stuffed crabs. There is an ancient Chinaman who some- 
times appears with stuffed crabs, at other times with pralines, 
and who is said to play poker with every nickel he earns. On 
the banquettes the 'one-man band' attracts attention with his 
ability to keep drum, cymbals, banjo and harmonica all going at 
the same time. And late at night in one club or another, Madame 
St. Martin, the Creole flower vendor, will sell you an old- 
fashioned nosegay of sword fern, cashmere bouquet and Louis 
Philippe roses. 

But the best known of all French Quarter characters today is 
Banjo Annie, who, dirty and ragged and drunken, in a costume 
that often includes two torn dresses and a man's cap, trails her 
way from bar to bar muttering to herself or shouting invectives 
at the bartenders who will have none of her playing and singing. 

The vendors of Lottery tickets always do a thriving business, 
and so do the gentlemen who linger in shadowy doorways or in 
front of barrooms to inform you that there is ' a little game goin' 

Street Criers -49 

on in the back/ If you stand at one of the cheaper bars other 
men will approach and whisper invitations in your ears to pur- 
chase such merchandise as razor blades or shoestrings, combs or 

Thus the street vendors can satisfy practically every need. As 
the barroom peddlers supply the equipment for certain entertain- 
ment, so do taxicab drivers in the Vieux Carre supply the means, 
calling out and in no whispers - ' Wanta see some girls to- 
night, buddy? How about some pretty girls tonight?' 

5o Chapter 3 

The Irish Channel 

but we never had no killings/ says Jennie Green McDonald, 
rather indignantly. 'It was just a real cosmopolitan neighbor- 
hood, except for a few Italians. And I ought to know! My 
grandfather, Patrick Green, come from Ireland in 1840 and he 
settled right in the Irish Channel. Sure, and what in the name of 
Heaven would he be doing settling any place else? To think I 
am the last Irisher left in the Irish Channel!' 

And that is Mrs. McDonald's distinction. She and her family 
are actually the last of the Irish in that famous (or infamous; it is 
definitely a matter of opinion) neighborhood. This, of course, is 
splitting hairs a bit, and the statement will be denied with heat 
such as probably only the Irish are capable of generating. The 
fine point will certainly be argued and temperaments flare, if you 
make the statement in that section of New Orleans bounded by 
Magazine Street, the river, Jackson Avenue and Felicity Street. 
There will be those who agree and those who will not, and, even 
at this late date, Irish confetti may fly. Nevertheless, she speaks 
the truth, does Jennie Green McDonald. 

The trouble is all in the difference of opinion as to where the 

The Irish Channel / / 

Irish Channel is or was. The average Orleanian will probably 
testify to some such borders as those given above. He may even 
go farther and extend it uptown as far as Louisiana Avenue, some 
fifteen blocks. But even if conservative he will certainly include 
more than a hundred city squares. Actually the Irish Channel 
was only one small street, properly named Adele Street, that ran 
but two blocks, from St. Thomas to Tchoupitoulas Streets, and 
lay between Josephine and St. Andrew Streets. Today this Adele 
Street is inhabited almost entirely by Negroes, so that the Irish 
Channel no longer exists at all. 

But not so long ago it was one of the most interesting parts of 
the city, with a way of life and a character contrasting violently 
with Creole New Orleans. As a matter of fact in its beginning it 
was not in New Orleans at all, but in what James Renshaw, in 
the Louisiana Historical Review., January, 1919, called ' the lost 
city of Lafayette.' 

There are at least two beliefs as to how the Irish Channel 
earned its name. One story is that at Adele Street and the river, 
in front of Noud's Ocean Home, a saloon of some reputation, 
was a light, and that Irish seamen coming up the river and seeing 
the light exclaimed, ' There's the Irish Channel !' Another is that 
Adele Street was often flooded with water. Probably the truth 
is that it was simply because of the large proportion of Irish 

The earliest records of Irish in New Orleans are in the archives 
at Seville, where the names of hundreds of Irish living in the city 
during the Spanish Domination were recorded. Even Don Alex- 
ander O'Reilly - ' The Bloody O'Reilly' second Spanish gov- 
ernor of Louisiana was an Irishman, though the Irish do not 
admit him, but blame him on his Spanish rearing and environ- 
ment. An accurate estimate of how many Irish settled in the 
Colony prior to 182.0 is impossible, since New World ports usu- 
ally lumped Irish, Scotch and English immigrants together under 
the term 'English,' a habit the Irish must have resented! We do 
know that during the great migrations of 1846 and 1856, after 
the Irish famines left Erin with scarcely half of her population, 
one-third of the total number of persons entering America was 
from that country. Accurate records show that between 1850 

/2 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

and 1860 the Irish ranked first among Europeans entering the 
port of New Orleans. 

Some of these departed the city quickly for such towns as 
Natchez and Bayou Sara, where Irish colonies grew in size and in 
importance. But many remained, often intermarrying with the 
Latin Orleanians; there is little doubt that much Irish blood 
flows in Creole veins. Yet, between 1840 and 1847 great social 
prejudice arose against the Irish in New Orleans, and a tendency 
was born among them to segregate themselves and settle in a 
group. Some measure of this prejudice existed all over the coun- 
try during that era; they were accused of being radical, of sowing 
moral contagion, of bringing death plagues to the various com- 
munities, of abusing and ruining civil liberties, even of being 

In the forties, just outside the closely packed city of New Or- 
leans, there were a number of towns and villages, among them 
DeLord, Annunciation, Foucher and Lafayette. The last, by far 
the most important, was actually offering competition to New 
Orleans, and boasted of wharves lined with boats and a thriving 
commerce. Many of the Irish deserted the Creole town and 
found work in Lafayette. On the riverfront they wrested em- 
ployment from the Negroes, and slave labor being unable to com- 
pete with the more skilled labor, the slaves were sold to planta- 
tions. For themselves, the Irish seem never to have had any use 
for slavery. They lived simply in small cottages and like the 
Germans made their own hard-working way. There was great 
dislike for the black man. As late as the period of the first World 
War it was dangerous for a Negro to walk anywhere near the 
Irish Channel, though this was partially because of the compe- 
tition between them for work on the river. (In the end the black 
man won this fight; today nearly all wharf workers are Negroes.) 

After the Irish settled there the city of Lafayette continued to 
grow and prosper. Cotton presses, slaughterhouses, brick kilns 
and other businesses arose. The adjoining towns of Annuncia- 
tion and Livaudais were incorporated, later the Faubourg Del- 
lassize was added. In 1844 the boundaries already stretched from 
Phillip Street to Felicity Road, from the river to Nyades Street 
(now St. Charles Avenue). The corporate life of Lafayette was 

The Irish Channel -53 

but nineteen years. At last there was nothing to distinguish it 
from New Orleans but an imaginary line on Felicity Road. In 
1852. the town was formally annexed. 

But the city was less Creole now, was becoming increasingly 
Anglo-Saxon. The prejudice against the Irish had simmered 
down. Still the Irish kept to their own section. Adele Street 
and its vicinity were scrupulously avoided by all who did not 
live there. A stranger in the neighborhood was usually greeted 
with a shower of bricks. This inhospitable custom became so 
general that anyone displaying a black eye or a bandaged skull 
was asked if he 'had passed through the Channel lately.' 

Even today practically every local prizefighter claims to have 
been reared in the Irish Channel. Oldtimers protest angrily: 'If 
they were born on Constance and Fourth Street, twenty blocks 
from Adele Street, and are half Dago and half Swedish, they still 
claim to be Irishmen from the Irish Channel. That's because 
Irish Channel and fight has always meant the same thing.' 

Yet not all the residents of Adele Street were Irish, even in its 
heyday. There was a generous mixture of German families with 
such names as Weber and Mertzweiler and Sonnemeir. But they 
lived in peace with their neighbors and seem to have been Irish 
in sympathy and spirit, to have mingled with them as one race, 
and to have fought in Irish fights. And, of course, the Irish 
spread from Adele Street all throughout the section, partially 
explaining the confusion as to where and what was the Irish 

Richard A. BranifF, interviewed just before his recent death, 
recalled there being 44 buildings in the Channel, consisting of 
X4 double and 9 single cottages of low structure; there were only 
2. two-storied houses. There were also 5 grocery stores, i bar- 
room, a rice mill, 2. cooper shops and an empty lot. Mike Noud, 
'a tall and handsome Irishman,' and his wife, Mollie, ran the 
saloon, Ocean Home. St. Thomas Street, at one end of Adele 
Street, gradually became settled with Irish, too. Tchoupitoulas 
Street, at the other end, became the principal business thorough- 
fare during the 1870*8, and was lined with establishments of all 
sorts: barrooms, oyster saloons, furniture stores, barber shops, 
lottery shops, tailors' establishments, pharmacies and wholesale 

$4 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

houses, and shoe, dress, cigar, candy and confectionery shops. 

Anthony Cullen still lives in the section and would reside 
nowhere else. ' This was the real business district of the city, ' he 
said, speaking of the vicinity of Tchoupitoulas and North Dia- 
mond Streets. He pointed to the building of the Bartlett Chem- 
ical Company. 'That was the Diamond Hotel. You don't have 
to believe me, but it was the first hotel in the city. Next door 
(now the Dixie Mill) used to be the Jennie Lind Oyster Bar, and 
it was named for Jennie Lind because she used to come out here 
and eat oysters every day she spent in New Orleans. Feibleman's 
(New Orleans' Sears Roebuck's now) was right on Tchoupitoulas 
and St. Joseph. That's where they started out in business. 
Everything is changed completely now. It wasn't anything like 
this! You wouldn't recognize it as the same neighborhood. 
There were lots of fine homes, they're almost all gone and for- 
gotten now.' 

The Daily Delta, July 10, 1861, published a completely 
unvarnished opinion of the Irish Channel, stating: 'The inhab- 
itants appear for the most part to be an intemperate and blood- 
thirsty set, who are never contented unless engaged in brawls, 
foreign or domestic such as the breaking of a stranger's pate 
or the blacking of a loving spouse's eye. These are the ordinary 

This was naturally denied with his usual vigor by Channel 
champion Richard Braniff. 'The Irish Channel always bore a 
wonderful reputation because of the splendid class of people who 
lived there,' he said. 'There was only one Irish Channel and 
there will never be another.' 

Jennie Green McDonald adds her bit with: 'Everything was 
very peaceable. A ship would come in loaded with German, Rus- 
sian or English sailors, and the boys would come into the saloons 
and of course get into a fight. But our boys would bring 'em 
right home for a clean shirt and patch up where they'd been cut 
or hit too hard, and wash all the blood off and all. Everything 
was done real nice and quiet. Never no killings, just like I told 

' People get all mixed up when they talk about the Irish Chan- 
nel,' said oldtimer Gus Laurer. ' It never did cover all the streets 




'-X l . 

> t 

* -^ 

The Rex Parade passing the St. Charles Hotel on Mardi Gras 

Courtesy of New Orleans Item 

Adele Street is the heart of the Irish Channel 

'I'm Irish and proud of it," says Mrs. Louise Allen of St. Thomas Street. 
"We've always lived here." 







'Many a good fight have I seen," declares Irish Michael Horn 




Amkiot oi DM Nod Soplu* Tucker 
Cooa Novhy Soog 

tin-Mitel Mr lislMd.Yoi'n 



Succe^ull, Introduce B, 0rl& B 

Jostph Giffflt & JWfH Jon Oiiilli Publtahinq 

,~n.,.. -~- 

Cover of a piece of sheet music of the Axeman's Jazz period 

The Irish Channel / / 

they say. A Channel links two bodies of water, doesn't it? Well, 
the Irish Channel is right here that little Adele Street, run- 
ning from Tchoupitoulas to St. Thomas. I remember when there 
wasn't nothing but Irish on it. 

'Sure, and they had a reputation as fighters. Did you ever 
know as when an Irishman would not rather fight than eat? The 
gangs were the worst, especially the St. Mary's Market Gang, 
the Shot Tower Gang, and the Crowbar Gang. But it wasn't all 
fights and gangs. People in the Channel made good money then. 
Stevedores and longshoremen were well paid and they lived on 
the fat of the land. Now it's different. When they get a dollar 
they go run to start buying something on time. Every Monday 
morning the woodpeckers are out here. Knock-knock-knock! 
Knock-knock-knock! Everybody out here calls the collectors 
the woodpeckers. My God, but this neighborhood has changed ! 
Especially with the new government housing slums. What in 
the name of the saints is going to happen when all those Irishers 
get cooped up together in those apartments? You talk about an 
Irish fight! Wait until they get started one day.' 

Sitting on the stoop before his modest home, seventy-one- 
year-old Gus Laurer folded his hands over his cane and rested his 
chin on them, his eyes twinkling in the hot sun. ' We had more 
fun in the old days than the young people do now,' he contended. 
' Then we had horse-cars that was back in '78 or '88 I don't 
recall which. We would ride down St. Charles Avenue to Canal 
and Baronne Streets there was a turntable there and then 
ride back up, all the way to Carrollton. There was one line out 
Magazine Street we called the ' ' Snake Trail" because it turned so 
much. We had no moving pictures, but we went to the opera 
and the theatre. We danced at Delachies' Picnic Grounds, Hop- 
per's Garden, and the Washington Artillery Hall. There were 
benches on the levees and we'd go walking out there with our 
girls, and on Sunday afternoons we'd sit and watch the boats 
passing up and down the river. We used to have big times at old 
Spanish Fort. We took a train to get there; the fare was fifteen 
cents. Sometimes we'd go out to Milneburg, too. Then we had 
to ride the old ' ' Smoky Mary. ' ' Don't take my word for it, but 
some people say that was the second train in the United States.' 

/ 6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

A Negress passed with two big market baskets, one on each 
arm, crying, 'Blackberries! BlackBERRIEEES!' 

'Go on with you!' said Mr. Laurer. 'I don't want any nigger 
in a blanket today. That's what I call blackberries and cream. 
That looks just like niggers in a blanket, doesn't it?' 

Asked about the Channel in other days, Mrs. Placement re- 
plied calmly that as far as she could recall all the inhabitants 
were ' lovely people.' She admitted that there ' were some fights, 
but nothing real serious, or if there was, we women didn't know 
it. We raised big families then, stayed home and did all our work 
and minded our own business. We hardly went nowhere except 
to wakes.' 

Mrs. Placement mentioned that like the Creoles when an Irish 
Channel colleen was wed she remained unseen for several weeks. 
' And when they was pregnant,' she said, ' they had some decency 
and did not boldly show their condition. They would wait until 
after dark to walk around. Now as soon as they find it out they 
holler loud enough to be heard two blocks: "Oh, Mrs. O'Brien, 
what do you think? I'm going to have a baby!" And the brazen 
things flounce downtown to shows and everywhere. Sometimes 
when I see 'em on the street I say to myself: ' ' I will be surprised 
if they get home in time!" 

Michael Myers and Honnes Hahn are old cronies who spend 
their days in rocking chairs on the banquette before their homes on 
Rousseau Street near Adele. They sit and rock and talk of the 
'auld times,' and when the sun reaches their spot they quietly 
shift to the shade of a house or a tree. They admit the neighbor- 
hood was tough. 

The Crowbar Gang and the Pine Knot Gang operated right 
here in Rousseau Street, and they well remember both collections 
of brawling Irishmen. 'However,' said Michael, 'there was 
seldom a murder. But if strangers come around here, they would 
be asked: "What in the hell do you want?" If they did not an- 
swer quickly, they would have to be carried back to the other 
side of Magazine Street. The toughest spot was the corner of 
St. Mary and Religious Streets. There was three murders on that 

Michael and Honnes both knew the Dallio boys well. They 

The Irish Channel / 7 

were notorious petty criminals, who later went big time, robbed 
a bank and shot a guard to death. 'They lived right here at 
St. Thomas and St. Mary,' Honnes divulged. 'Their mother ran 
a saloon and people said she sold dope to school children.' One 
of the Dallio boys was killed by the police while trying to escape 
from a patrol wagon. The other was hanged. 

The Bucket of Blood Saloon, on the corner of Rousseau and 
St. Mary, was a popular rendezvous for the more virile males of 
the Channel. Rat Tooth Flynn was one of the most violent cus- 
tomers, but Rat Tooth met his destiny swiftly. It seems that one 
of his pals, a certain Foley, robbed a store, and that the unscrupu- 
lous Rat Tooth nonchalantly broke the law of their particular 
jungle and 'stooled* on him. Thereupon Foley met Rat Tooth 
and chased him from the environs of the Bucket of Blood to 
Magazine Street, forced him to do a maypole dance around a 
telephone post, and 'blasted him to hell.' Shortly afterward 
Foley followed him from the gallows. 

There are many little folk-tales regarding the gangs who gave 
the Channel a generous portion of its notoriety. One of the live- 
liest of these groups was the St. Mary's Market Gang. It is 
easily remembered when it was foolhardy to pass the St. Mary 
Market after dusk. Even the police dared not enter that vicinity 
at night. Some will assert there were no killings, but others 
disagree. One gray morning, from a hook where a beef carcass 
was usually suspended, hung a bulky canvas bag. Inside was the 
corpse of a sailor. 

Jim Dolehan remembers that incident and others. 'The St. 
Mary's Market crowd was the only gang out here that ever got 
into serious trouble,' he said. ' There was the time they shot and 
killed Sergeant Fitzpatrick, the Negro policeman, who had his 
beat in that section. Of course the Irish resented having a Negro 
policing their neighborhood, but the Sergeant was a fine fellow 
and lots of people liked him. That was in August, 1892.. You 
know, there was only one shot fired, and the man who fired it is 
still walking around free, though lots of innocent men were 
arrested. That was one mystery that was never solved.' 

On August 9, 1 89X5 the Times Democrat carried an article about 
the St. Mary Market and about another colored policeman as- 
tigned to the beat: 

/ 8 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Officer Moore, a colored officer, during his term of duty on 
the St. Mary's Market beat has made things decidedly warm 
for the unruly hoodlums who hang around the market. One of 
the policemen remarked last night, ' This is a good place to put 
a man if he is wanted killed. ' In order to give a proper concep- 
tion of the locality of the shooting and the means of assassi- 
nating an officer it is but necessary to say that St. Mary's Mar- 
ket, in the western wing of which the shooting took place, is 
one of the most notorious hard beats in the city. The market 
is the rendezvous of crooks of the most daring characters who 
hang around the darkened recesses of the place and waylay 
pedestrians who have the temerity to pass that way. The mar- 
ket proper is without a light of any kind, save at the lower end 
where the rays of a couple of incandescent lights at the coffee 
stand afford poor illumination. The gang which infests the 
market has long been the cause of uneasiness to the people and 
has succeeded in giving the officers no end of trouble. 

' The other gangs used to beat hell out of people walking in 
the Channel. They just resented outsiders. Sometimes they'd 
steal a little bit, but most of the time it was to give to the poor. 
There was the Ripsaw Gang operating on Erato and Constance, 
the Danites around the Magazine Market, the Mackerels at Cal- 
liope and Magazine, the Crowbar and the Shot Tower Gangs. 
Oh, plenty of 'em! The boys would jump on a train loaded with 
coal and throw pieces of it off; then they'd bring all that coal to 
the poor. Of course, they'd beat hell out of anybody walking in 
their territory, and sometimes the gangs would war on each 
other or with them downtown Sockserhausers.' This from 
Harry Nelson. 

Gus Laurer believes that, despite all the gangs, conditions 
were better than now. 'You didn't have the real serious crime 
like now,' he said. 'It was all good clean fighting. We kept the 
niggers and other people who didn't belong out of the Channel 
and we made the bastards on the riverfront pay us good money.' 

Even the women of the Channel seem to have indulged in a 
little roughhouse occasionally. 'A furious female named Mary 
O'Brien,' states a writeup in the Daily Delta, July 3, 1861 
' one of the wild women of St. Thomas Street was last night 

The Irish Channel / p 

arrested for attacking and seriously wounding her neighbor, 
Ellen McGuire, with a hatchet, with a view to terminating her 
existence.' The Delta goes on to explain how it was all over a 
stalwart Channel youth, and that Mary went to jail for quite a 

Mrs. Curry, a quiet, middle-aged woman, has charge of the 
Public Bath on St. Mary Street. Not a native of the vicinity, but 
from a more placid neighborhood, she sees it all quite objec- 
tively. 'This has always been a rough section,' she said. 'It 
always will be. Even today there is plenty of drinking and 
fighting. I tried to rent a room upstairs over the baths, as I live 
here alone and would prefer to have someone in the house with 
me, but no one I would have will ever rent it. They're all afraid 
of the neighborhood.' 

Richard Braniff explained how some of the gangs earned their 
names. The Shot Tower Gang was so-called, according to Bran- 
iff, because they always gathered near a 'shot tower' in the 
Channel a place where lead shot was manufactured. The 
Crowbar Gang used crowbars to pry open windows and doors 
when necessary to do so. Most of the others possessed appella- 
tions that referred to the sections in which they lived. 

But life was not all gangs and fightings. 

By the time of incorporation with New Orleans, Lafayette had 
become a city of striking contrasts. The rear section around 
Chestnut, Prytania and Nyades Streets was filled with the resi- 
dences of prosperous merchants and cotton speculators. There 
were brick sidewalks and formal gardens. This neighborhood 
is still known as the ' Garden District' throughout New Orleans. 
Even in the vicinity of Annunciation Square, close to the Chan- 
nel, there were many fine homes, though the Square was a hang- 
out for the gangs, who regularly smashed benches and com- 
mitted other vandalism. Yet the owners of these mansions re- 
mained in the environment for years, driving forth in their car- 
riages to the awe of the poorer Irish, submitting to the surrepti- 
tious peeping of Irish boys, who climbed fences and sneaked 
looks through windows, staring at the butlers and other serv- 
ants at a family like the Ryans, themselves of Erin, who 
maintained a staff of eight household servants and lived, in the 

60 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

eyes of the Channel inhabitants, an existence of absolute elegance 
- at the Bresslins, whose eighty-five-thousand-dollar home 
was furnished in all the magnificence of the era, including gilt 
and crystal chandeliers, huge family portraits in oils and antique 
furniture resplendent with gilt, in the tradition of the day. 

Conditions were different immediately around the Channel. 
Few of the streets were anything but mud. Filthy water flowed 
through the gutters and there was little street lighting, practi- 
cally no sewerage or drainage. All drinking water was obtained 
from cisterns. Butchers then slaughtered their own meat, and 
along the riverfront were numerous slaughterhouses the cat- 
tle pens were at the foot of St. Mary Street and the whole 
neighborhood reeked with a fearful stench. Every once in a 
while the cattle would escape the pens and stampede, invading 
yards and even the houses of the residents. James Renshaw in his 
article in the Louisiana Historical Review, already mentioned, tells 
how bulldogs were trained to take a grip on the head of stubborn 
cattle, forcing them into obedience. A Mrs. Hogan made pin 
money by always keeping a mule which she would rent to the 
city from time to time, to be used for the purpose of pulling 
dump carts. Occasionally, as it must to all, death came to the 
mule, and on these tragic instances neighborhood children would 
gather in Mrs. Hogan 's backyard to 'ride' the dead mule and 
play at other games in which the cadaver might take part. Irish 
Channel children found much diversion, too, 'swimming' in the 
gutters after a heavy rain or in riding street posts through the 
water-filled gutters often such posts lay about awaiting 

Yet, despite all this, Henry C. Castellanous in his New Orleans, 
As It Was, speaks of the section as being 'pretty.' According to 
him, orange trees and gardens grew in many of the yards, and 
a low levee planted with willow trees ran along Tchoupitoulas 
Street. All cross streets in those days ran to the river's edge. 

Money was plentiful. Irish longshoremen and stevedores were 
well paid. Screwmen who 'screwed' or packed the cotton 
into the ship's hold sometimes received as much as twenty- 
five dollars a day. The section abounded with saloons and gam- 
bling halls where the rivermen spent the money as quickly as 

The Irish Channel 61 

they made it. Noud's Ocean Home, the Bucket of Blood and 
Bull's Head Saloon thrived and prospered. There was an entire 
group of gambling places near the St. Mary's Market. Every 
Sunday afternoon cockfights attracted crowds and the owners 
of the prize roosters could be seen strutting through the streets, 
as proudly as would the fowls they carried. 

Quoits were played in open lots, the binders used to strengthen 
timbers being used as rings. Night watchmen paraded the 
streets at night with 'rattles' in an ineffectual effort to suppress 
crime. A major diversion was when the Sockserhausers journeyed 
uptown to some place like the Bull's Head Saloon to meet one of 
the Irish Channel gangs in a free-for-all. The fame of the Irish 
grew, particularly as fighters and drinkers, and it is said that the 
average Irishman washed down each of his five daily meals with 

But there were sturdy family men on Adele and the near-by 
streets. On Saturday nights and on Sunday afternoons groups 
and families would picnic at the Orange Grove Picnic Grounds 
located at Upperline and Laurel Streets, or at Shey's Backyard at 
Carrollton and St. Charles. 

Families were large and housewives cooked plenty of whole- 
some if coarse food. Stews, cornbeef and cabbage, potato 
pancakes, red beans and rice were eaten during most of the week. 
On Sundays there would be a huge spread, usually including 
roast turkey or chicken. In those days the Irishwoman returning 
from market would be certain that the feet or the tail feathers of 
her fowl protruded from the bag she carried, so the neighbors 
would know she could afford turkey or chicken. Others dis- 
played the corpse of the deceased bird in the window for the same 
reason. The very poor, not to be outdone, would frequently steal 
some feathers from a market or a neighbor's garbage pail and 
march down their street with the feathers showing from their 
package of groceries. In holiday seasons peddlers drove turkeys 
and geese through the streets, offering them for sale, with riotous 
noise and effect. 

Harry Nelson remembered many of the Channel oddities. ' The 
real Channel Adele Street was inhabited by all respectable 
families,' he said. ' It was the riverfront saloons that gave it the 

62 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

bad name. There were so many of those places Mike Noud's 
Ocean Home, the Bull's Head Tavern, the Isle of Man, Tom Bar- 
low's place at Tchoupitoulas and St. Andrew. Then there was 
that social hall the Hammerling my father kept a store 
right next to it back in 1876. Kids had lots of good games and 
clean fun then. We swam in the gutters and in the river. Some- 
times the cops chased us and I'd run all the way to Adele Street 
naked as the day I was born. 

'Some people called Adele Street "Goat's Alley" and it was 
always filled with goats. Every family in the Channel had four 
or five goats. 

'Talk about parades! The screwmen paraded every 2.5th of 
November and we really had a turnout. There 'd be flags and 
banners strung all over the streets. The marchers wore long 
black coats like preachers, doeskin pants, high silk hats and 
blue aprons with silver fringe. And they always had on big 
"regalias" them was sashes about a foot wide that went over 
the left shoulder and tied around the body, hanging almost to the 
ground on the right side. Every year the screwmen gave a big 
ball. Tickets were one dollar for gents, ladies by invitation. 
And you had to be somebody to get in ! No hard characters 
allowed. The Irish gals were a week getting their hair "tilted 
up" and their clothes fixed. A man in full dress always met you 
at the door and he'd give the lady a hand-painted program with 
a silk tassel holding a little pencil. And they would stand for no 
fighting at them affairs. They'd throw you out on your behind. ' 

The Sunnyside Saloon on Tchoupitoulas Street was a favorite 
hangout for Irish Channel athletes. Amateurs would always be 
glad to fight for the benefit of any group who would collect a 
hundred dollars or more. Besides boxing and cockfights, the 
Irish loved dog fights, and champions were developed, some of 
which had names oldtimers can still remember. Richard Braniff 
told of a battle between two dogs. "Tiger" was the champ,' 
he said. 'The challenger was called "Napoleon Jack." When 
the fight started Tiger was so slow it looked like Napoleon Jack 
was going to clean him up for a while. Then Tiger went over in 
the corner and got rid of some big chunks of meat, came back 
and whipped hell out of that other hound. Someone had fed the 
champion a big meal so he wouldn't be able to fight.' 

The Irish Channel 6 $ 

Mr. BranifF also remembered that 'John L. Sullivan trained at 
the Carrollton Gardens and he used a bag of river sand for a 
punching bag. He could hit that thing to the ceiling and they 
didn't use gloves in those days. No women were allowed in 
prizefights, but I remember one time one dressed like a man and 
sneaked in. However, they caught her and threw her out.' 

All Channel bars as did most others had free-lunch 
counters, and the Channel bars offered free smoking. There 
would be a huge jar of tobacco at each end of the bar, and when 
a customer wanted to smoke, the bartender would reach down 
and extract a clay pipe with a long stem and give it to him, invit- 
ing him to help himself to tobacco. 

'Of course there was plenty of lottery/ said Mr. BranifF. 
'There was Charles Howard's big drawing every month at the 
old Academy of Music, with a capital prize of seventy-five thou- 
sand dollars. When the women went marketing they always 
stopped and bought their lottery tickets. That ain't changed 

Girls, he said, were raised very strictly. 'If a girl ever got 
fooled by a boy it was too bad. She'd just have to go right down 
in the red-light district then and there. Nobody ever forgave her 
and as far as her family was concerned she was dead. But if a 
boy just got a little rakish with a girl and she'd go home and tell 
her old man, he or her brothers would beat hell out of him. Boys 
couldn't date girls at all like they do now. When I took a girl 
out once she was my girl, and if another boy asked to take her 
out he'd have to fight me and lick me first.' 

Perhaps Irish wakes belong in the front row as far as enter- 
tainment was concerned. Corpses were often waked two or 
three nights, and practically the entire Channel attended each 
wake. There would always be food, whiskey and clay pipes for 

All pictures and mirrors were covered as soon as a person 
died, and clocks were stopped. Mrs. Placement added that 'a 
pan of water with a loaf of bread in it was always put under the 
corpse to keep down the smell and camphor was kept freshened 

'Everything they say about Irish wakes is true,' vowed Harry 

64 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Nelson. ' There was plenty of drinking and smoking out of those 
long clay pipes with shag tobacco; and the only singing was 
when they got to crying, and it was almost like a tune, that 
famous Irish Cry! The widow \vould say: "Oh, Michael, why 
did you lave me? Oh-o-eee-oh!" That's the way it sounded. 
You see, it's easy for the Irish to cry. Their bladders is right in 
their throats. They'd put money on the corpse's eyes and some 
people would steal it when they knelt to pray by the coffin. If 
the dead person belonged to an organization they'd turn out and 
march . ' 

' They'd have a feast that night,' James McGooey remembered, 
not without nostalgia. 'People would come from all over the 
city, especially them German Sockserhausers from ' ' way down- 
town." Everybody 'd go on into the parlor and look at the 
corpse and say fine things, though some of 'em had never seen 
the man when he was alive. Then they'd go out in the back- 
yard, get drunk and fill their bellies with food. One night we 
got wise to one gang from downtown what was always coming 
up to our wakes and we followed them down and beat hell out 
of 'em. It was a downright satisfaction, I tell you. Their leader 
was an Irishman in this case, you see, and they got by because 
he'd come in and cry and talk to the widow and pat her hand 
just like an old friend. That fight was a wonder! We was all 
beat to a whisper, but they was worse. They stopped pulling 
that wake racket from then on. Later when the Channel got 
soft I came to be friends with some of them. You'd be surprised 
if I told you who they was. One is the president of a big whole- 
sale house, another is a big shot in a bank, several others are 
politicians, and one runs one of the best saloons in the business 
district. And there they was! I guess they was all fine lads, just 
after the free food and liquor. We always served the best whis- 
key in town at wakes in the Irish Channel, you see.' 

Mrs. P. J. Donegan, who operates a funeral parlor on Jackson 
Avenue, remembers hearing the Irish Cry only twice. 'There 
was a death in the house next to us,' she said. 'I heard "Oh-o- 
eee-oh!" I thought it was a dog howling at first, then I realized 
it was the widow next door keening giving the Irish Cry. The 
other time my husband was sitting out on the front steps and a 

The Irish Channel 6f 

woman who had just lost her husband came and sat next to him, 
and began her keening. Every once in a while she'd holler: "Oh, 
Georgie, why did you lave me? My Georgie! My Georgie! 
Why did you lave me?" Then she'd go: "Oh-o-ee-oh! Oh-o- 
ee-oh !" The only thing was her keening wasn't so good, because 
she was sort of drunk. 

' I remember one time a man died and he was so swollen they 
had to put a big rock on his stomach as he lay in his coffin. They 
had quarters on his eyes, too. A friend came in, knelt by the 
coffin, weeping and howling, and when nobody was looking 
swiped the quarters off the dead man's eyes. Then he began to 
pray, and as he prayed that rock slid off the corpse's stomach 
and hit the side of the coffin. Bang! That praying Irishman let 
out a scream and ran out of the house. But he still had the 

One resident of the section said : ' When my father died it was a 
real Irish wake. We had tobacco and drinks and food for every- 
body. The neighbors stayed all night and the more they'd drink 
the louder they'd cry and yell, until it seemed like they was try- 
ing to see who could yell the loudest. Lots of strangers came 
just for the food and drinks. I recall my mother telling about 
one old woman who walked in. She came up to my mother 
and asked her, "Who's the bastard that's dead?" Mother was 
indignant, of course, and she said, "He isn't any bastard. He's 
my husband!" The old woman looked at her for a minute, then 
she said, quiet-like, "Well, I'm a sonofabitch!" 

As in other parts of the city, death notices were pinned or 
tacked to trees and fences in the Channel neighborhood. Hun- 
dreds of twigs of orange leaves were gathered and carefully sewed 
to a clean white sheet. This was spread over what was known 
as a- ' cooling board' and the board was placed on two chairs or 
sawhorses, and here the body lay until it was placed in the coffin. 
Often it lay there until almost time for the funeral. The women 
of the family, assisted by friends and neighbors, gathered and 
prepared sandwiches and potato salad, baked cakes and cookies. 
The men dug deep and went out to buy quarts and quarts of good 
whiskey. Sometimes a bit of shamrock or a carefully hoarded 
piece of Irish earth was placed in the hands of the corpse. 

66 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

If the house were very small and they usually were 
tables were set out in the backyard, these often being simply 
boards on sawhorses. Here the feast awaited the mourners when 
night came, with whiskey and sometimes kegs of beer open to 
all. The wake was no mournful affair. Jokes were told and songs 
of the old country sung. The males got into all sorts of mischief. 
If one fell asleep the others were likely to take off his pants and 
hide them, or to paint his face black with a burnt cork. Some- 
times more extreme, or perhaps only more intoxicated, jokers 
would take the corpse off the 'cooling board,' stand it up in a 
corner and pour whiskey down its throat to ' help the auld 
boy on his long journey.' 

But at last, after the long wake, the hour of the funeral would 
approach. Word was spread from mouth to mouth and everyone 
gathered in the room with the deceased. Someone near the body 
would say, 'Jim was a good man!' At this, the widow always 
started to cry softly. Another would say something similar. 
Another. Soon the words became a kind of chant, passing from 
lips to lips, accompanied by the cries of the women, which grew 
in intensity and volume until some were almost screaming. 
Worked up to a frenzy, men and women would howl, until the 
house was filled with the eerie sounds. The wailing and weeping 
would continue until the priest arrived for the services. 

There might or might not be a band in the cortege, depending 
on whether or not the deceased had belonged to certain organ- 
izations. If he had, the music played en route to the cemetery 
would be low and mournful. Returning from the cemetery, 
livelier numbers were in order spritely Irish tunes or popular 
music of the day ' Good-bye, My Honey, I'm Gone' and 
'Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey?' No one dared to return 
to his home immediately; to do so was to bring the ' dust of the 
grave into the house' a certain harbinger of death. 

The Channel Irish were, of course, very superstitious, though 
not a single individual among them would ever have admitted it. 
Sometimes the nails in the coffin lids were removed so ' the soul 
could rise without trouble on Judgment Day.' Often the feet of 
the corpse were left free and uncovered, probably for the same 
reason. It was an omen of death to dream of a letter edged in 

The Irish Channel 67 

black. A sneeze at the table meant someone present would soon 
die. A bird flying into the house through an open window fore- 
told the same tragedy, as did a white spot on the mirror; clothes 
that were burned were never patched, for that, too, would mean 
death. Watchers at wakes frequently carried a pinch of salt in 
their pockets, tasting it from time to time to ward off 'evil.' 
The candles of the dead were never blown out, but pinched out 
with the fingers. 

Yet some of the best-known Irish superstitions seem to have 
been left in Erin. Evidently the banshee couldn't cross water. 
New Orleans Irish made no claims to hearing its cries. 

There were many other superstitions. It was bad luck to leave 
a house by any exit but the one by which you entered, a belief 
still prevalent in New Orleans, people usually apologizing with 
'Of course, I'm not superstitious, but . . .' The salt superstitions 
were numerous. Salt was never borrowed. To accept salt was to 
accept evil. Packages of salt were always left behind, as was the 
broom. (This, too, has survived; many educated Orleanians will 
not move a broom.) Salt thrown on the front steps the first 
Friday of each month brought good luck to the household. It 
was even bad luck to run out of salt. 

Breaking a clothesline was very, very unfortunate; there was 
no telling what might happen. It was good luck to keep a goat 
it is probably true, though, that the Channel folk kept theirs 
for practical, rather than superstitious, reasons. To have your 
hair cut on Friday invited tragedy. All you had to do always to 
have at least one piece of silver was to burn onion peelings. A 
sprig of verbena in your wallet or purse kept money there. The 
ninth bone from the tail of a black cat was highly valued and 
kept in the pocket for gambling luck. Sometimes butterfly wings 
were tied to the right leg for the same effect. 

It was extremely unfortunate if you thoughtlessly held your 
shoes above your head. You would lose everything you pos- 
sessed. The belief that to wash your feet and leave the water 
under the bed was bad luck may be traced back to Ireland, where 
it is thought the 'little people' will leave a house where there is 
such a flagrant display of laziness. 

There were several wise women in the Channel, who seem to 

68 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

have been combination seers and midwives in most cases. Then 
there was a 'witch man' known as Buddy Lolliger who pos- 
sessed the disagreeable ability to cause an automobile wreck 
merely by wishing it would happen. There is evidence that the 
women practiced a rather commonplace- type of voodoo occa- 
sionally, with love charms, pins stuck in images, etc. 

Like the Creoles, the Channel Irish tormented newlyweds with 
charivaris, but here it was of a rowdy character surpassing any- 
thing of which the gentler Creoles had ever dreamed. Often it 
degenerated into out-and-out blackmail. In 1849 tne Mardi Gras 
almost lost its existence. It had long been a custom to throw 
flour at passers-by. Channel youths threw quick lime instead, 
and bricks. One respectable lady was hit in the head and 
knocked unconscious. Then the better elements of the city peti- 
tioned the City Council to abolish the Carnival, though, of 
course, this was not done. 

Richard Braniff told of the wonderful fighters the Channel 
produced. 'There were a great many men along the riverfront 
and around the Irish Channel who were great fighters because of 
their strength and splendid build,' he said. 'Joseph Powers, 
Shorty McLaughlin, Bob Bitters, Bryan Connors, are only a few 
of the names I recall at the present. Tom Daugherty, Tom Casey, 
Paddy Erie and Freddie Krummel were all good men who earned 
their reputations by actually fighting in the prize rings of our 
city. Charley Cole, James Hill, James Noud (son of Mike Noud, 
proprietor of the Ocean Home), Tom Harrison, Black Walsh and 
Harry Nelson were all clever men. The Sunny South Athletic 
Club, located on Tchoupitoulas near Josephine, was owned by 
Billy Armshaw, better known as "Big" Armshaw. He was an- 
other fine and handsome young man, who conducted sparring 
exhibitions every Saturday night. There was always a pair of 
boxing gloves with a horseshoe in each glove, very handy to 
accommodate any and all rowdy customers, who after getting a 
few drinks under the belt could finally declare that they wanted 
to fight anyone in the house. Of course such an individual would 
be accommodated at once. Many a good white hope must have 
been amongst the splendid set of men who worked along the 
riverfront, because of the remarkable strength and beautiful 

The Irish Channel 69 

build of these young men, who were the pick of the nation.' 
Mr. BranifF recalled other characters of the Channel's past. 
There was Skinner Norton, for instance, whose feet were always 
so swollen he never could wear shoes. He would walk through 
the neighborhood carrying a wharf plank twenty-four feet long, 
twelve inches wide and three inches thick on his shoulder, which 
he would sell for twenty-five cents to buy something to eat or 
drink. There was ' Anti' O'Rourke. who, though a hard drinker, 
made his living diving into the river from the tops of the large 
steamboats plying the Mississippi. During the summer 'Anti' 
O'Rourke would attract thousands of persons, who would con- 
gregate along the riverfront to watch his ' sensational' dives from 
the Natchez or the Robert E. Lee. Of course, before performing, 
'Anti' always took up a collection from the passengers on the 
boat. Mr. BranifF added, ' He learned many of the younger gen- 
eration his famous Anti Dive, now known all over the country 
as the Jackknife Dive.' 

Billy McCue is remembered because of his steadfast belief in 
the superstition that if you added a room to a house some mem- 
ber of the family would die. When Billy married his girl, Katie, 
he built her a four-room house. Billy and Katie had eight chil- 
dren, the neat little cottage became overcrowded, and Katie 
begged Billy, who had prospered with the years, to add a room 
or two. This Billy firmly refused to do, though he did not then 
explain his refusal. After many years, when five of the children 
were married, and the other three had entered the priesthood, 
Billy gave up his grocery business and he and Katie moved to the 
country. Only then did he tell her: 'My old Irish mother had a 
superstition about adding rooms to houses. I knew if I had done 
so we might have lost some of our fine lads and lassies.' It is 
reported that the new tenant of the house, possessing numerous 
offspring, added two rooms, and that five years later every mem- 
ber of the family except his wife and the youngest child was 

Sir Henry Morton Stanley, world famous explorer and finder 
of Doctor Livingston, spent some of his boyhood in the Channel 
neighborhood. Born John Rowlands, a British subject, he came 
to New Orleans at eighteen and was taken into the home of 

jo Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Henry Hope Stanley. Later, in gratitude, he changed his name 
to that of his benefactor. It is thought he remained in the Stan- 
ley home still standing at 904 Orange Street for about two 
years, until joining the Confederate Army at the outbreak of the 
War Between the States. 

John Culligan recalled Perfume Peggy, who died about 1938. 
Peggy gained fame early in life as the cause of much olfactory 
commotion. 'She couldn't fool a blind man when she walked 
into a room,' said Mr. Culligan. 'She even stunk on picnics. It 
was Hoyt's German Cologne she used. That was the most popu- 
lar perfume in the Channel just like all the girls used Tetlow's 
Face Powder.' 

Peggy overdid her perfuming; it was generally agreed that she 
probably bathed in it. ' Whew!' breathed Mr. Culligan. ' What 
a smell!' Probably because of this, though one of the prettiest 
girls in the Channel, she didn't marry until she was fifty years of 
age. It is said her husband drank heavily and that this was the 
only reason he could tolerate his wife's fragrance. Then Peggy 
made him stop drinking, and soon thereafter he left her. But 
Peggy wouldn't give him up so easily. Everywhere he went she 
followed. Once when he had gone in a house to get another 
woman, she hid in the rear of his car, a monkey wrench in her 
fist. That time her perfume saved him a fractured skull. When 
he emerged, he smelled Peggy and he and his new girl friend made 
a hasty departure. Perfume Peggy had to be contented with 
smashing up the car as thoroughly as possible with the monkey- 

In her latter years Peggy changed her brand. Given to attend- 
ing lotto parties (occasionally she was thrown out at the insist- 
ence of patrons with sensitive nostrils), she came to believe it 
was Hoyt's that caused her to lose constantly. She found a brand 
she preferred Jockey Club and her luck changed immedi- 
ately. For the balance of her life she used this Jockey Club, 
which, incidentally, was even stronger, according to Mr. 

When Peggy died her husband took charge of the body, had 
her buried from home instead of from a funeral parlor. Comply- 
ing with her last request, he sprinkled the corpse with so much 

The Irish Channel 77 

Jockey Club that the scent filled the house and nobody could 
stay in the room very long the night of the wake. ' When Peggy 
was put into her tomb,' Mr. Culligan concluded ' and I'm not 
lying there was so much perfume on her that I could smell it 
after the vault was sealed. You couldn't smell the flowers at all 
for it.' 

Simon Leopold, a Jew, is well remembered around the Irish 
Channel. Every day he stalked through the neighborhood, sell- 
ing notions from the pack on his back. He extended credit gen- 
erously, but each Saturday evening, when the men were home 
with their pay, Simon was there to collect. Then there was 
Rebentisch, who had a sign reading, ' Barber Shop. Cutting and 
Bleeding Shop. Leeches' before his establishment. A specialty 
was using leeches to cure black eyes, a not unusual disfigure- 
ment in the Channel. George Morrell remembered how Reben- 
tisch extracted teeth. He would use a pair of pliers big enough 
to ' open a water plug, and once he caught hold of a tooth it 
meant certain dispossession.' 

Mr. Morrell also recalled Braselman's Store, at the intersection 
of Magazine and St . Andrew Streets . ' That was the big shopping 
place for Irish Channel people. The women would go there to 
buy bolts of red flannel with which to make underwear with long 
sleeves and legs. Of course we always wore our shirt sleeves 
rolled up to show the red flannel underwear beneath. Everybody 
wore them then, especially the longshoremen and screwmen, 
who did such hard work they were always sweating and 
catching cold.' 

Doctor John L. Jones was one of the most beloved persons in 
the Channel of some thirty or forty years ago. Doctor Jones 
drove through the section every day and almost every night, car- 
ing for sick Irish. Actually he was the physician employed by 
the Longshoremen and Screwmen Association, but the whole 
neighborhood idolized him. For Doctor Jones treated anyone 
who was sick, whether they had money or not, and when he 
prescribed medicine and the family had no money, he dug into 
his pockets and contributed that, too. Michael Myers and 
Honnes Hahn told this story concerning the big smallpox epi- 
demic which struck the Channel: 

7-2 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

'Tom Moran was the first to die,' they said. 'He lived on 
Rousseau and Josephine Streets, just a block from the Channel. 
The Board of Health wouldn 't let people what had died of small- 
pox have a funeral, but buried them right away. Doctor Jones 
was across the street and he watched men carrying out Tom's 
coffin, coming down that narrow alley, liquid dripping out of 
the thing all the way they soaked the body in some sort of 
disinfectant before they buried it, you see and Doctor Jones 
saw 'em dump the coffin on a wagon, watched it creak away out 
of sight. He got to thinking and he knew there was five other 
Morans down with the disease, and that nobody would go near 
'em. Without thinking anything of it at all, he crossed the 
street and walked right into that plague-ridden house and began 
nursing them people. And three out of the five got well! 

' You see Doctor Jones was always experimenting. Some say 
that's what killed him. He was experimenting on himself up at 
Touro Infirmary, working with goats, trying to find a cure for 
tuberculosis. He kept snakes and he used their poisons for medi- 
cines. He had a salve called "Dr. Jones' Black Salve." People 
told a story about a fellow with a wooden leg who rubbed some 
on that leg and grew a new meat one.' 

Many of the stories of Doctor Jones revolve about his forget- 
fulness. He would enter a house, leaving his horse and buggy 
outside, and boys in the neighborhood would steal the horse 
and buggy and go riding. Doctor Jones would come out, com- 
pletely forget the horse and buggy and walk home. But he was 
so beloved that the boys always returned his property as soon as 
the ride was over. He was always leaving his hat, his coat or his 
medicine bag some place and forgetting them. He never remem- 
bered to carry paper on which to write down his prescriptions. 
Once he wrote one on a door and the Irishman, whose wife he 
was treating, ripped the door off the hinges and carried it to the 
drugstore on his shoulder. Often he wrote them on his own cuff, 
tore off the cuff and presented it to the people of the house. 

The Irish Channel remembers Mrs. Hickey, too. Like most of 
its inhabitants, Mrs. Hickey kept goats. She had four or five and 
they were such pets that they ate their meals at the table with 
Mrs. Hickey. One day the goat wagon a vehicle designed for 

The Irish Channel j $ 

the same purpose in regard to goats as the dog wagon for dogs - 
picked up Mrs. Mickey's goats, whereupon the lady burst from 
the house and gave chase. Catching up with the wagon, she 
unlatched the door in the back, freeing not only her own goats, 
but all the others. The next day Mrs. Hickey received a court 
summons. Mrs. Rickey's devotion to her goats was paralleled 
by another New Orleans woman. This one had a horse, which 
she would ride through the streets from time to time. Her small 
house possessed only a narrow alley and a tiny backyard, so the 
horse was kept in the kitchen, where it slept before the wood 
stove on cold winter nights. 

Professor Clark used to delight the Channel Irish by donning 
eight suits of clothes and diving into the river in the neighbor- 
hood of Adele Street. He would strip off one suit after another 
and come up attired in a bathing suit. Sometimes he would have 
himself tied in a bag, weighted with stones, and thrown into the 
water. He would be down so long that all the women would 
squeal with terror, but of course Professor Clark always emerged 

Father Pagan is one of the best-known characters in the section 
today. Almost all New Orleans Irish are Roman Catholic and 
hold great esteem for their priests, but when the priest is as typi- 
cal an Irishman as Father Pagan, himself born and reared near 
the Channel, their reverence approaches adoration. 

One of the Redemptorist Fathers at 2.030 Constance Street, 
Father Pagan takes great pleasure in 'bawling out' his parish- 
ioners from the pulpit. He'll boom at the late comers to Mass: 
' What's the matter with you? Were you out too late last night 
to get to church on time this morning?' A small, highstrung 
Irishman, he never tires of singing the Channel's praises. His 
bright eyes snapping behind his glasses, he said: 'I've lived all 
my life in the Channel and it's the finest place in the country to 
live! I was reared right here at St. Mary and Annunciation. We 
had cows and pigs and goats. Oh, the Irish Channel people were 
a pretty tough lot, but they were fine people. The screwmen and 
the longshoremen used to make good money, but they never 
saved any of it God bless 'em. They drank, of course, and 
there was a saying that they ate turkey on Sunday and pig tails 
the rest of the week.' 

74 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Perhaps it is only on Saint Patrick's Day that Orleanians now 
realize how many Irish there are in a city supposed to be over- 
whelmingly Latin. There are still many Irish organizations and 
clubs, and the day is widely celebrated with parades, banquets, 
dances and Masses at Saint Patrick's Church. Each year a pretty 
Irish colleen heads the parade, and all the marchers wear derbies 
and as much green as possible. 

On this day oldtimers who had lived their lives in the Channel 
neighborhood mourn the changes that have come about. The 
real Channel Adele Street is inhabited entirely by Negroes, 
except for Jennie Green McDonald and her family. Muddy and 
disreputable, the little street gives no hint of its past. At St. 
Thomas it comes to an end at the brand-new brick buildings of 
the recently constructed Federal Housing Project. The oldtimers 
hate these modern apartments, though the young people delight 
in the bathrooms and electric refrigerators, and despite preju- 
dice against the invasion, among the tenants are such names as 
Kelly, O'Brien, Burke and O'Donnell. 

But Jennie Green McDonald says she will remain in Adele 
Street. 'We own this property,' says she, 'and we'll stay here. 
We own the house next door, too, and real refined colored people 
rent it. I wouldn't want to live in them government slums. They 
look like a jail. But the young people like that newfangled stuff. 
I'll stay in the Irish Channel, even if it has become the Black 

Chapter 4 

Axeman's Jazz 


cally, her eyes huge and white in her fat black face. 'I sure 
don't go out much at this time of year. You takes a chance just 
walkin' on the streets. Them Needle Mens is everywhere. They 
always comes 'round in the fall, and they's 'round to about 
March. You see, them Needle Mens is medical students from 
the Charity Hospital tryin' to git your body to work on. That's 
'cause stiffs is very scarce at this time of the year. But them 
mens ain't workin' on my body. No, sir! If they ever sticks 
their needles in your arm you is jest a plain goner. All they gotta 
do is jest brush by you, and there you is; you is been stuck. 
'Course I believes it!' 

Hundreds of New Orleans Negroes believe it. Fear of the 
Needle Men, which dates back to early days, could possibly be 
traced to voodooism. Then epileptics were thought to have had 
a spell cast upon them. Sometimes such an individual would die 
in the streets during an attack, and when this occurred Negroes 
were certain the Needle Men had been at work. Mamie believes 
in protecting herself from these corpse-hunting 'students.' 

'Sure, I carries my gun,' she said. 'I always got it with me. 

7 6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

I don't fool around! Any of them Needle Mens come after me 
they gonna be makin' stiffs of theirselves. Oh, yes, I goes to 
church. I been on the board 'leven years now. I jest been 
'pointed head of the toilet committee. My duties is to show the 
new members where the toilet is at.' 

Apparently Needle Men have actually appeared on several 
occasions, though this is debatable. In 192.4 there was a Needle 
Men scare in the Carrollton section of the city. It was reported 
that these 'fiends' slunk about the darkest streets, sprang from 
behind trees or from vacant lots overgrown with weeds, jabbed 
women with their needles and fled. Cruel skeptics insinuated 
the 'victims' were suffering from a combination of imagination 
and Prohibition gin, but indignant females, of all colors, swore 
to the existence of these particular Needle Men. 

On a Sunday night in February, when good citizens were re- 
turning from church, the police managed to arrest a pair of 
Negroes, one armed with a twenty-six-inch bayonet. The man 
with the bayonet protested he packed the weapon to protect 
himself against the Needle Men, but the police were certain they 
had their man. Both prowlers were tried in night court, sen- 
tenced to thirty days, and the Needle Men vanished from Car- 

Only a few years ago Needle Men appeared, according to 
reports, and began stabbing young women while they were 
seated in moving-picture theatres, rendering them partially un- 
conscious and carrying them off into white slavery and a fate 
'worse than death.' For months in New Orleans downtown 
cinemas, women were screaming and fainting and crying out they 
had been jabbed with a needle. But so far as can be ascertained, 
the period offered no more disappearances than usual, nor is it 
known that any New Orleans women strayed down the prim- 
rose path via this particular route. 

Similar to the Needle Men, at least in intent, are the Black 
Bottle Men. The Black Bottle is reputed to be a potent dose 
administered to the innocent and unknowing on entry to the 
Charity Hospital. Instant death is certain to follow, the body 
then to be rendered up to the students for carving. 

The explanation for this is simple. Every person entering 

Axeman s Ja%z 77 

Charity Hospital is given a dose of cascara upon admission. 
Pure cascara is nearly black and when magnesia is added, as is 
the custom, it becomes a deep brown, the change in color causing 
Negroes to fear it is a death-dealing drug. 

Still another terror among the colored folk of New Orleans is 
the Gown Man. 

'The Gown Man is tall and slim and wears a black cap and 
long black gown that reaches to the ground. He goes after the 
womens when they is alone, but he won't touch 'em if a mans is 
around. He has a long black automobile, I done seen it, parked 
down at the bottom of the levee. I really doesn't know what 
he's tryin' to do, but I does think he is after doin' us girls some 
harm. I'd be willin' to bet my haid that he wants somethin' 
from us girls and if he is a white mans I really doesn't think so 
much of him 'cause he ought to go chasin' his own kind.' So 
spoke Olivia 'Collins who lives at Camp Street near the levee of 
the Mississippi River. 'I knows one thing,' Olivia concluded 
firmly. 'He's a real mans, and not no ghost!' 

Not all the women agree to that last assertion, however. 
There are many who are certain he is a 'ghost.' Around the 
neighborhood of the levee he usually appears driving his long 
and shiny car, but when he shows up in other sections he drops 
out of trees and sends the women fleeing and screaming for their 
lives and virtues. 

A similar character haunted the city of Baton Rouge for sev- 
eral years during the early nineties. 'Hugging Molly' was a 
white-robed individual who would hide among the bushes along 
North Boulevard until some girl came along; then he would rush 
out and crush the terrified female in a passionate embrace. Dis- 
guised in a sheet, his intention was evidently to appear as a 
woman to the casual observer. 

Soon the whole town was trembling for fear of meeting the 
dreadful creature, Negroes being particularly alarmed at the 
resemblance of his drapery to that worn by the at that time - 
still well remembered Ku Klux Klan. In later years, when 
'Hugging Molly' died, in a dingy room in a loft, there was 
found the paraphernalia he used for a disguise. Apparently a 
mentally unbalanced, but relatively harmless creature, he had 
committed no crimes other than his amorous squeezings. 

7 8 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

The Mother Hubbard Man haunted the streets of Alexandria 
for several weeks during August, 1919. Clothed in a loose black 
robe, he was seen nightly by a number of people in the Negro 
section of the town known as the Sonio Oil Mill quarters. The 
Negroes were greatly frightened, but he committed no crimes, 
and vanished as abruptly as he had appeared. 

About fifteen years ago the Domino Man appeared in the 
Gentilly section of New Orleans. In those days the suburb was 
sparsely inhabited and there were many empty lots with high 
weeds and trees. School children passing through thickly 
wooded lanes on the way to school began to be frightened by a 
creature wearing a white robe and hood, who had the agility of a 
monkey. He would drop from trees, chase little girls, gesticu- 
lating wildly, then vanish. He could leap from the ground into 
a tree and disappear. Men were known to have fired directly at 
him and feel confident they had hit him, only to" have him re- 
appear the next day, unharmed. Apparently his only desire was 
to frighten the children. All witnesses swore he never made an 
attempt to attack the children nor even to follow them very far. 
As soon as they screamed or ran, he vanished. As the ^children 
were always too frightened to be certain of his size, it was sug- 
gested he was not a man at all, but a monkey someone had 
dressed up as a practical joke. Others concluded that since most 
of the children were Catholics he was undoubtedly a member of 

Louisiana has had whole towns placed under 'spells.' For 
several decades the town of Columbia existed under a curse 
placed upon it by a hanged murderer. It began about 1890 when 
a white man killed a colored woman during an argument. The 
woman, a midwife and cook, was well liked in the town. Soon 
after his arrest an irate mob broke into the parish jail and 
lynched her slayer. It is said that before his death the murderer 
stated that each ten years thereafter Columbia would be burned 
to the ground. Another version has it that certain friends of the 
man made the threat. 

Whichever it was, shortly afterward the entire town was re- 
duced to ashes by flames. A decade later, in 1900, there was 
another fire which did considerable damage. In 1909 the entire 

Axeman s 

business district burned. In 1919 fire razed four office buildings. 
The New Orleans States of Saturday, March 7, 1914, carried the 
following headlines in large black type: 


Jack-the-Clipper had appeared on the scene to inspire horror 
among these proud possessors of what was known then as ' a 
wealth of woman's crowning glory.' The newspaper reported: 

Three New Orleans girls have fallen victim to Jack-the- 
Clipper, who was abroad Friday, snipping the plaited locks of 
young schoolgirls. Many other girls were said to have lost 
their hair, but are suppressing it because of the resultant un- 
pleasant notoriety. Superintendent Reynolds has detailed spe- 
cial officers to watch for the miscreant, who has been operat- 
ing mostly on street cars and in moving-picture theatres. 

It is not thought that any hair dealers are guilty, for the 
tresses were slashed but a few inches from the end, while the 
guilty parties had an opportunity of cutting off two or three 
feet of hair. 

During the next few weeks there w r ere a number more cases 
reported to the police, and the opinion grew that most young 
ladies suffered in silence rather than endure the 'resultant un- 
pleasant notoriety.' 

On March 13, 1914, the New Orleans States reported: 

Since stories have begun to appear in the papers regarding 
the unmentionable thief who has been cutting off hair, New 
Orleans girls have come to realize that they wear wealth on 
their heads. Not only that, but they are taking great pains to 
guard it. 

A chattering group of school girls boarded a car Thursday 
at the corner of the Sophie B. Wright High School. Thick 
braids of black, brown and golden hair hung down their backs. 
As soon as they had found seats, giggling stopped long enough 
for them to reach round with the trained precision of a comic 
opera chorus and bring their braids to the front and tuck them 
carefully in the front of their coats. 

8o Gumbo Ya-Ya 

One whose hair wasn't long enough to reach worked with 
her refractory curls until she had them all safely tucked from 
sight in the crown of her hat. 

Jack-the- Clipper vanished as abruptly as he had appeared, ap- 
parently having satisfied his fetichism. 

During the period from 192.1 to 1913 there were recurrent epi- 
demics. These were the years when bobbed hair was coming into 
fashion, when the value of the crowning glory was rapidly 
diminishing, and to bob or not to bob was the profoundest of 
questions. This new 'fiend' invaded the sanctity of feminine 
boudoirs and hacked the tresses into rough-edged bobs. Perhaps 
it is significant that these 'victims' were all young women im- 
bued with a passion to adopt the mode, but who had been for- 
bidden to do so by old-fashioned parents or husbands. 

But it was in May, 1918, when the greatest reign of terror New 
Orleans had ever known began. This time a very genuine fear 
settled over the city. For the next year and a half Orleanians 
were to awaken nights at the slightest noise and strain their ears 
for any sound that might resemble that of a chisel scraping 
against a door panel, and to open their morning papers with 
trembling hands. The Axeman had appeared in the city, ruth- 
lessly hacking and slaughtering his victims while they slept 
peacefully in their beds. He provided little humor. 

There were many who contended that the Axeman was not a 
man at all, but a supernatural being, a diabolical fiend and agent 
of the Devil. There are some who still contend that he was. 
There is little chance now that anyone will ever know. 

On a Thursday morning, May 2.3, 1918, Joseph Maggio, an 
Italian grocer, and his wife were butchered with an axe while 
they slept in their apartment behind the Maggio grocery. Police 
discovered a panel in a rear door had been chiseled out, providing 
entrance for the murderer. The axe, smeared thickly with the 
Maggios' blood, was discovered under the house. Nothing in 
the rooms had been stolen. Valuable jewelry reposed atop a 
dresser; money was found under blood-soaked pillows on which 
the Maggios had slept, in drawers, even on the floor beside the 

Axeman s Ja%% Si 

Detectives went to work frantically. Several suspects were 
arrested, but had to be released for lack of evidence. One curious 
clue, its meaning as much a mystery today as then, was the 
following chalk mark on the banquette near the victims' home: 

Mrs. Joseph Maggio will sit up tonight. Just write Mrs. Toney. 

Police, digging into records, discovered several cases in the 
past bearing amazing similarities to the Maggio tragedy. In 
1911 there had been three actual murders and a number of attacks 
on Italian grocers and their families. In all the cases an axe had 
been used and entry to the homes had been achieved through 
removal of a door panel. None of the crimes had ever been 

The Maggio crime aroused Little Italy and terror spread that 
another outbreak of Mafia or Black Hand crimes, such as the 
first series of axe murders was believed to have been, might 

Almost exactly a month after the Maggio case came. the second 
crime. Louis Bessumer, a grocer residing behind his store, and 
his common-law wife, Mrs. Annie Harriet Lowe, were dis- 
covered by neighbors one morning lying in their own blood in 
one of the rooms. Beside them, like a macabre signature, re- 
posed an axe. A panel of the kitchen door was gone. A chisel 
lay on the rear steps. Nothing had been stolen. 

Regaining consciousness in Charity Hospital, Mrs. Lowe first 
described the intruder as large, young and very dark. Weeks 
later, dying, she accused Bessumer of the attack, and the grocer, 
recovered, was tried for Mrs. Lowe's murder. This was a war 
year, Bessumer was a German. Rumor spread that he was an 
enemy agent and, as is common at such times, prejudice against 
his nationality caused much bitter feeling. However, it could 
never be ascertained how he could have butchered Mrs. Lowe, 
then fractured his own skull, so he was released. Neither was 
there any real evidence of subversive activities. 

Early in August Mrs. Edward Schneider, alone in her home in 
Elmira Street, awakened to see a dark, phantom-like form tower- 
ing over her bed. She shrieked as the axe fell. Neighbors dis- 
covered her unconscious, her head cut and bloody, several teeth 
knocked out. She recovered. 

8 2 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

A few nights later, Joseph Romano, Italian grocer at 
Tonti and Gravier Streets, fell under the axe. His niece, Pau- 
line Bruno, occupying the next room, gave an account of the 

'I've been nervous about the Axeman for weeks,' she told a 
reporter of the Item, August 10, 1918, 'and haven't been sleeping 
much. I was dozing when I heard the blows and the scuffle in 
Uncle Joe's room. I sat up in bed. There, at the foot of my bed, 
was this big heavy set man. I think he was white, but I couldn't 
swear to it. It was just a quick impression. I screamed. My 
little sister, asleep beside me, sat up and screamed, too. We were 
horribly scared. Then he ran. He was awfully light on his feet. 
It was almost as if he wore wings. 

'We rushed into my uncle's room. He was stretched out on 
the bed with two big cuts in the back of his head. We got him 
up and propped him in a chair in the front room. "I've been 
hit," he groaned. "I don't know who did it. Call the Charity 
Hospital." Then he fainted. Later he was able to walk to the 
ambulance with some help. I don't know that he had any 

Romano died a few hours later, without being able to give any 
clue as to the identity of his assailant. 

Now literal hysteria swept through many quarters of New Or- 
leans. In Italian families, members divided into regular watches 
and stood guard over their sleeping kin, armed with loaded shot- 
guns. Little Italy, believing itself in most danger of attack, 
waited nervously. Who would be next? 

Opening his saloon the morning of August n, Al Durand 
found an axe and a chisel outside the door, which, evidently, had 
been too thick for the intruder. 

The Axeman was, according to witnesses, actually seen in the 
neighborhood of Tulane and Broad, masquerading as a woman. 
Citizens organized into bands and launched a man hunt, without 

On August xi a man was seen leaping a back fence at Roche- 
blave and Cleveland Streets. The locality was in an uproar for 

On August 12., the States reported: 

Axeman s ]a^ 8 $ 

Armed men are keeping watch over their sleeping families 
while the police are seeking to solve the mystery of the axe 
attacks. Five victims have fallen under the dreadful blows of 
this weapon within the last few months. Extra police are be- 
ing put to work daily. 

At least four persons saw the Axeman this morning in the 
neighborhood of Iberville and Rendon. He was in front of an 
Italian grocery. Twice he fled when citizens armed themselves 
and gave chase. There was something, agreed all, in the 
prowler's hand. Was it an axe? Superintendent Mooney is 
asking for the cooperation of all Orleanians in every effort to 
capture this fiend. 

Little Italy divided its time between guarding the kitchen 
doors and kneeling at the family altars. Saint Joseph was receiv- 
ing more than his usual share of donations. The police whirled 
like dervishes. 

Joseph Dantonio, retired Italian detective, gave the following 

'The Axeman,' Detective Dantonio pontificated, according to 
the States, August 18, 'is a modern "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." 
A criminal of this type may be a respectable, law-abiding citizen 
when his normal self. Compelled by an impulse to kill, he must 
obey this urge. Some years ago there were a number of similar 
cases, all bearing such strong resemblance to the present out- 
break that the same fiend may be responsible. Like Jack-the- 
Ripper, this sadist may go on with his periodic outbreaks until 
his death. For months, even for years, he may be perfectly nor- 
mal, then go on another rampage. It is a mistake to blame the 
Mafia. Several of the victims have been other than Italians, and 
the Mafia never attacks women.' 

In the last part of August the rear door of Paul Lobelia's 
grocery and residence at 742.0 Zimple Street, was chiseled 
through. No one was home at the time. The same day another 
grocer, Joseph Le Boeuf, whose store was only a few blocks from 
the Romano home, reported an attempt to chisel through a 
panel in one of his rear doors. Aroused, he had frightened the 
intruder away. An axe, apparently hastily dropped, lay on his 
back steps. The next day an axe was found in the yard of 
A. Recknagle, grocer, at 2.4x8 Cleveland Street. There were the 

84 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

scars of a chisel on a back door. All this had its compensations, 
however. The grocers were receiving free advertisements in the 

On September 15, Paul Durel, grocer at 2.2.39 North Robertson 
Street, discovered an attempt had' been made to chisel through 
his door. A case of tomatoes resting against the panel had foiled 
the Axeman. During this period a number of burglaries were 
committed also, the robbers sometimes entering through a door 
panel, thus aping the methods of the Axeman. 

Then, as suddenly as he had appeared, the Axeman vanished. 
Orleanians, citizens and police, gradually learned the art of 
breathing freely again, as week followed week, month followed 
month, and door panels remained intact. 

But on March 10, 1919, at three o'clock in the morning, Mrs. 
Charles Cortimiglia, wife of a grocer in Gretna, just across the 
Mississippi River from New Orleans, awakened to see her hus- 
band struggling with a large man in dark clothes, who was 
armed with an axe. As Cortimiglia fell to the floor, his head a 
gory mass of blood, his wife clasped her two-year-old daughter 
Mary in her arms and begged the intruder for mercy, at least for 
the child. But the axe fell relentlessly. Mary was killed, her 
mother received a fractured skull. 

Regaining consciousness in Charity Hospital several days 
later, Mrs. Cortimiglia accused a seventeen-year-old neighbor, 
and his father, of the attack. It was several weeks before Cor- 
timiglia was able to give a statement. Then he contradicted his 
wife's assertion, saying it was not the accused persons, but a 
'dark, unknown man.' 

Police, discovering the Cortimiglias and their neighbors had 
been on bad terms, arrested the young man and his father and 
charged them formally with the murder of little Mary Corti- 
miglia. Despite his youth, the son was over six feet tall and 
weighed more than two hundred pounds. Detectives on the case 
admitted it was impossible that such a large person could have 
entered through the small opening made by removing a panel. 
One odd theory advanced at this time was that the axe murderer 
might be a woman or a midget ! Despite the fact that all 
recovered victims had described their assailant as large, how 

Axeman s 

could a big man crawl through such little space? All doors had 
been locked, the keys removed; it would have thus been impos- 
sible for the intruder to have unlocked a door by inserting his 
hand. And the doors were still locked when the attacks were 

Following the Cortimiglia murder, New Orleans and vicinity 
was again aroused. The S fates , March n, summed it up as 
follows : 

Who is the Axeman; and what are his motives? 

Is the fiend who butchered the Cortimiglias in Gretna Sun- 
day the same man who committed the Maggio, Bessumer and 
Romano crimes? Is he the same who has made all the attempts 
on other families? 

If so, is he madman, robber, vendetta agent, sadist or some 
supernatural spirit of evil? 

If a madman, why so cunning and careful in the execution of 
his crimes? If a robber, why the wanton shedding of blood and 
the fact that money and valuables have often been left in full 
view? If a vendetta agent of the Mafia, why include among 
victims persons of nationalities other than Italian? 

The possibilities in searching for the motives in this ex- 
traordinary series of axe butcheries are unlimited. The records 
show no details of importance which vary. There is always 
the door panel as a means of entrance, always the axe, always 
the frightful effusion of blood. In these three essentials the 
work of the Axeman is practically identical. 

In the same article Superintendent Mooney said: 'I am sure 
that all the crimes were committed by the same man, probably a 
bloodthirsty maniac, filled with a passion for human slaughter. ' 

Then, on Friday, March 14, 1919, another newspaper received 
a letter from a person who declared he was the Axeman. The 
letter read as follows : 

Hell, March 13, 1919 
Editor of the Times-Picayune 
New Orleans, La. 

Esteemed Mortal: 
They have never caught me and they never will. They have 

86 GumboYa-Ya 

never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that sur- 
rounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a 
fell demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians 
and your foolish police call the Axeman. 

When I see fit, I shall come again and claim other victims. I 
alone know whom they shall be. I shall leave no clue except 
my bloody axe, besmeared with the blood and brains of he 
whom I have sent below to keep me company. 

If you wish you may tell the police to be careful not to rile 
me. Of course, I am a reasonable spirit. I take no offense at the 
way they have conducted their investigations in the past. In 
fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to amuse not only me, 
but His Satanic Majesty, Francis Josef, etc. But tell them to 
beware. Let them not try to discover what I am, for it were 
better that they were never born than to incur the wrath of the 
Axeman. I don't think there is any need of such a warning, for 
I feel sure the police will always dodge me, as they have in the 
past. They are wise and know how to keep away from all 

Undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible 
murderer, which I am, but I could be much worse if I wanted 
to. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At 
will I could slay thousands of your best citizens, for I am in 
close relationship with the Angel of Death. 

Now, to be exact, at 11:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday 
night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite 
mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. 
Here it is : 

I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in 
the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose 
home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just men- 
tioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much 
the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that 
some of those people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if 
there be any) will get the axe. 

Well, as I am cold and crave the warmth of my native Tar- 
tarus, and as it is about time that I leave your earthly home, I 
will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this, 
that it may go well with thee, I have been, am and will be the 
worst spirit that ever existed either in fact or realm of fancy. 


Axeman ' s Ja% J 7 

Orleanians did their best that Tuesday night a Saint Jo- 
seph's Night to satisfy the Axeman's passion for jazz and to 
purchase immunity with music. 

In fact, the Axeman was invited to be a guest at one party. 
Oscar Williams, William Schulze, Russell Simpson and A. M. 
La Fleur inserted an advertisement in the newspapers Tuesday 
morning, inviting the murderer to a stag affair at 552. Lowerline 
Street that evening. Minute instructions were given as to his 
means of entry. He was requested not to mar any doors, but to 
utilize a bathroom window-, and was assured no doors would be 
locked in the house. His hosts deplored the fact that there 
would be no jazz music at the party, but only a suitable rendering 
of 'Nearer, My God, to Thee.' He was promised every consid- 
eration as a guest and at least four scalps. 'There is a sincere 
cordiality about this invitation,' stated the hosts, in the Times- 
Picayune^ March 19, 1919, 'that not even an Axeman can fail to 

Cafes all over town were jammed. Friends and neighbors 
gathered in homes to ' jazz it up.' Midnight found the city alive 
with the ' canned music' of the period inner-player pianos and 
phonographs. In the levee and Negro districts banjos, guitars 
and mandolins strummed the jazziest kind of jazz. Joseph Da- 
villa, well-known New Orleans composer of popular music, 
wrote the theme song for the night. Mr. Da villa titled his com- 
position 'The Mysterious Axeman's Jazz' or 'Don't Scare Me, 
Papa.' Not a single attack occurred that night. Evidently the 
Axeman failed in his promise to 'pass' over the city, or else he 
was well satisfied with the celebration in his honor. 

The night of August 3, 1919, Miss Sarah Laumann, a girl of 
nineteen, was attacked with an axe while she slept in her home. 
Though she received a brain concussion she recovered. But this 
raised the terror to new heights. Miss Laumann was not the 
proprietor of a grocery; she was not Italian; her assailant had 
not entered by a door panel, but had used a window. The Axe- 
man was no longer confining his victims to one type, nor using 
one means of entry. This seemed to enlarge the list of prospective 

Then he vanished, apparently taking another vacation. Dur- 

88 Gumbo Ya-Ya . 

ing the following few months, though police relaxed their vigi- 
lance not an iota, there were no indications of his operations 
anywhere in the city. 

It was October when he reappeared for his final slaughter. 
Mike Pepitone, a grocer, was butchered in his bed on the twenty- 
seventh of that month. His wife and six children, asleep in an 
adjoining room, were unmolested. A picture of the Virgin Mary, 
hanging above Pepitone's bed, was splattered with his blood. 

Then, at last, after eighteen months of his dreaded visitations, 
the Axeman vanished from New Orleans forever. Though fam- 
ilies still kept watch and the police continued feverish and 
frantic endeavors to locate some clue to the identity of the mur- 
derer, nothing else happened. The nights passed as peacefully 
as if he had never stalked the dark streets, seeking a back door 
for his chisel, a sacrifice for his axe. 

There were aftermaths. The Gretna youth, already sentenced 
to be hanged for the murder of the Cortimiglia child, and his 
father, sentenced to life imprisonment as an accessory, were 
freed on December 6, 192.0, a full pardon being granted. Mrs. 
Cortimiglia had suddenly and mysteriously refuted all her testi- 
mony against the two men, confessing at this late date that she 
had never seen her assailant clearly. She told Jefferson Parish 
authorities that Saint Joseph, patron saint of all Italians, had 
appeared to her in a dream and instructed her to tell the truth 
and to beg her neighbors' forgiveness. So that Monday morning 
the two Gretna men walked out of the little town jail into a 
driving rain, free citizens. 

But, far away on the Pacific Coast, more than a year after the 
Axeman's exit, a former Orleanian, Joseph Mumfre, fell dead in 
a street of the bullets fired from a revolver in the hands of a 
woman. The woman, identified as Mrs. Esther Albano, was 
later discovered to be the widow of Mike Pepitone, last of the 
Axeman's victims. 

Immediately police tried once more to untangle the web that 
probably linked all the cases. Some decided that Mumfre had 
been the long sought Axeman. He was known to have been at 
one time the leader of a band of blackmailers who had preyed 
relentlessly on Italians in New Orleans. Curious coincidences 

Axeman s Ja% 89 

were revealed. Mumfre had been sent to prison just after the 
first axe murder in 1911. In the summer of 1918 he was paroled, 
just at the time the Axeman had reappeared. Immediately after 
the Pepitone killing Mumfre had left for the Coast, and the Axe- 
man had again vanished. However, there was no evidence of 
his connection with the ghastly crimes. 

Some people still contend that the Axeman was not a man at 
all, but, as the letter in the newspaper stated, ' a fell demon from 
the hottest hell . . . the worst spirit that ever existed either in 
fact or in the realm of fancy. ' 

Twenty years after the Axeman's visit, another demon ar- 
rived in Louisiana. This was a far less harmful spirit, however, 
though many believed he was the Devil himself. In September of 
1938 there appeared in Algiers, on the other side of the Missis- 
sippi from New Orleans, a mysterious stranger who rode on the 
air, wrecked bars and homes and insulted women. He is de- 
scribed as having had long black horns, bright pink ears shaped 
like sunflowers and eyes like a chicken. He could make himself 
disappear or change into a baboon right before your eyes. And 
he announced he was the 'Devil Man.' 

The Devil Man never killed anybody permanently, but he 
caused a lot of temporary deaths from fright. One night a man 
and his wife were coming home from a dance in their automobile 
and were stopped by a man who asked for a ride. The woman 
did not like his looks, so he was refused. Ten miles later they 
met the same man again, and the couple became nervous and 
threw their liquor out of the car. Ten miles later the same man 
stopped them once more. But this time he didn't bother to ask 
for a ride. He performed in a much more picturesque fashion. 
He just changed himself into a devil, right before their eyes, 
casually. Of course, the woman fainted. Somehow the man 
managed to keep the car going down the road. A few miles 
farther the Devil Man made a fourth appearance, this time riding 
a brown horse. The Ford won the race. 

The couple told the neighbors about their experience and the 
neighbors told the police, causing the latter to begin an extensive 
search for this remarkable individual. There are stories of the 

go - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

police meeting him, firing their pistols, and having the bullets 
returned to them by way of hairy hands. 

Soon the Devil Man was insulting Negro women in the streets, 
and some of them didn't like it very much. There were so many 
different stories of meeting the Devil Man that Sergeant Holm of 
the Algiers police ordered everyone arrested who so much as said 
they had seen him. But the only actual arrest made was of a 
wild-eyed, dark brown fellow who said his name was Clark 
Carle ton, that he came from the hills of Arkansas and had been 
sent to this 'latitude' by the great spiritual monarch, King Zulu. 
This monarch, said Clark, was not to be confused with the King 
Zulu of New Orleans' Mardi Gras, being the 'great benefactor 
and advisor to Neptune, who comes only to those who speak his 
language.' And Clark said he spoke his language very fluently. 
However, he said he wasn't really the Devil. He was greater 
than the Devil! 

George Horil, white proprietor of the Paradise Inn, tried to 
prevent the police from arresting Clark and substantiated some 
of the stranger's statements. But his influence failed. What 
could the police of any civilized country do with a man who 
claimed to be greater than the Devil? 

Horil told another version as to how the Devil Man story 

'That Negro came into my place about a month ago,' Horil 
said. ' He told me he was hungry, and said, "I'm from the hills 
of Arkansas. My ears look like they are waiting for to hear the 
up yonder spirits and my eyes look like they are looking for the 
moon. Even the Devil would feed me." I could see the man 
was hungry, so I gave him a piece of pie, some milk and a sand- 
wich. I'll admit he did look funny. Well, long about that time 
some school children came along and started laughing at the 
man, who was standing in front of my place, now. They kidded 
him so much that he became angry, and he said, "If y'all don't 
let me alone, I'm goin' to put the Devil on you." Then the kids 
started yelling. "Devil Man! Devil Man!" They drew such a 
crowd that the man got scared and ran off. 

4 Then the story got around that he disappeared into the grave- 
yard opposite my place. Some of the beer parlors began saying 
the Devil Man had been to their joints, bought whiskey and 

Axeman s Jat -91 

disappeared. They said he would come back, and crowds of 
people would hang around these places in hopes of seeing him, 
some of them carrying guns and rifles. Of course most of them 
would buy drinks and plenty of them. One fellow said, "If the 
Devil Man takes me to Hell I want to be good and drunk." 

'One of the places put a sign outside, saying the Devil Man 
was doing all his drinking in his bar. And the people went for 
it. They packed the place.' 

Louis Kohlman, proprietor of Kohlman's Bar, said his busi- 
ness had doubled itself. The owner of Karper's beer parlor 
stated: 'The Devil Man nearly ruined my business. The people 
wouldn't come out at night, especially when they heard this 
Devil Man had poured whiskey down a woman's back in my 
place.' The desk sergeant at the Algiers police station said cyn- 
ically, 'There isn't any Devil Man, not even the man we have 
arrested. He's just trying to make some money.' 

But while the body of the captured Devil Man languished be- 
hind prison bars", his spirit apparently stalked the streets of New 
Orleans. On the night of September 13, 1938, there were more 
than two hundred calls at police headquarters regarding pe- 
culiarly Satanic activities. It was reported that the Devil Man 
was entering bars and frightening bartenders into giving him free 
drinks simply by removing his hat and letting them view his 
horns. One call offered the information that the Devil Man was 
in the Big Apple, a popular Negro rendezvous in South Rampart 
Street, doing the Big Apple. There were evidently several Devil 
Men at work. 

However, the one in the prison cell announced, with no little 
pride : 

' My name is Clark Carleton, and I am the Devil Man but 
greater than the Devil. I came from the hills of Arkansas on 
September 6, 1938. I walked under the stars and Neptune guided 
me through the darkness of the night. I reached Port Allen, 
Louisiana, and from there I rode the ferry into Baton Rouge; 
then I came to New Orleans, still under the guidance of Neptune 
and possibly one of his assistant stars. I stopped at the Page 
Hotel. I came to New Orleans as the sun came down in the skies. 

' Yes, they got me in jail, but it's my spirit that is haunting the 
people, because I have not been treated right by the police. 

p2 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

That's why I'm going to keep on troubling them. If I wanted to, 
I could get out of sight right now I could disappear away 
from all of you/ At this point a policeman offered the infor- 
mation that Clark had 'disappeared' one day, breaking jail, 
and had been recaptured. 

'You want to know how I got my powers? Well, Neptune 
came to me in the form of a fishhook in June and May of 1937. 
I was reading my Bible at the time. Oh, yes, I'm a Baptist man, 
but I believe in the Divine, too. Neptune told me to walk 
straight ahead, that I would find a two-headed man stranded on 
a rock. I found him but he disappeared. Then I knew I had the 

'I went to fourth grade in school. I ain't no amnesia victim, 
but I don't remember anything about my people or anything else 
about myself. Tonight I'm going to divide myself with Neptune 
and maybe when you come back I will be able to tell you more. 
But, please tell everybody that I'm not going to hurt anyone, my 
spirit is just passing around New Orleans and Algiers like a bird 
because I have been mistreated by the police.' 

On September 2.4 somebody shouted 'Devil Man' in the base- 
ment of the Craig Negro Public School. A near riot was the 
result. Little colored boys and girls ran screaming for homes and 
mothers. Teachers barred all doors to lock themselves in. 
Anxious parents ran to the school for reassurance. 

Opinions regarding the Devil Man varied greatly. In one 
respect, however, most colored citizens agreed. As staunchly 
religious Sister Susie Mack phrased it, 'Ain't nobody got no 
business messin* around with no man what professes to be the 

Evidently this Devil Man did at last go too far. The last heard 
of him was when a 'devil baby' with 'horns 'n all' was reported 
born in one of the Negro sections of New Orleans. 'The Devil 
sure got us now!' was the mournful conclusion whispered from 
door to door. 

But Louisiana can take it. As Brother Peter Williams, ebon 
pillar of Mother Keller's church, said with immortal wisdom 
and magnificent tolerance: 

'It is our policy to give every man a hearing, be he devil or 


Saint Joseph's Day 


Messina sat heavily in a chair, her knees spread wide apart, and 
mopped at her flushed face with a damp ball of a handkerchief. 
From her perspiring state and the tantalizing aroma drifting 
from the rear of the house it was simple to deduce she had just 
finished preparing the food for the altar at the opposite end of 
the room. Steam still curled upward from a white bowl of dark 
green artichokes. ' One of my kids is only half of an orphan, ' she 
explained. 'His pa's still living, but he don't have no steady 
work, so he's worse off than a whole orphan!' 

Mrs. Messina waved a thick red hand in the air, slapped a fat 
knee resoundingly. ' You like my altar, eh? I have five hundred 
different kinds of food. Besides the three sorts of Saint Joseph's 
bread, I have stuffed artichokes, stuffed crabs, stuffed peppers, 
stuffed celery, stuffed eggs and stuffed tomatoes. I have lobsters, 
red snapper fish, shrimps, crayfish, spaghettis, macaronis, spin- 
ach, peanuts, layer cakes, pies, pineapples...' Mrs. Messina 
took a breath. 'My God! I have everything! This is the fifth 
year I make an altar. Five years ago my little girl she get sick 
and when she get well she can't talk. My baby is deaf and dumb. 

94 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

I almost go crazy. She is my life! My God, I lose my mind!' 

Mrs. Messina blew her nose. 'We had a little market then, 
and one day an old lady come in begging for her Saint Joseph's 
altar. I give her a dollar and I told her if she's come back I'd give 
her a basket of fruit. I tell you the truth. I will always be glad 
that old woman come to see me I was so crazy. My baby was 
too little to understand why she can't talk. When I take her out 
she tear off my hat and pull at my clothes to show me something. 
She stomp her feet and her face get so red she almost bust. All 
the time I come home a wreck. 

'Well, like two, three days before Saint Joseph's Day that old 
lady come running into my place all excited like, and she say: 
' ' Mrs. Messina, I had a vision . I seen Saint Joseph with my own 
two eyes. He say I must go get that little girl who can't talk 
and make her the Virgin at my altar." 

'I tell you my kid looked beautiful! I dressed her up all in 
white with a wreath in her hair. And right after that year I 
started my altars, because next day Saint Joseph come to me. He 
say, "Mrs. Messina, why don't you have an altar for me, your- 
self?" I say, "Saint Joseph, please give my kid back her speech, 
or you take her yourself." See how crazy I was? But right away 
then she starts to get better. But, my God, what I go through 
for that kid! Without Saint Joseph I couldn't stand it. This 
might be my last altar. I got to think about it. If I make an- 
other vow, then I'll have to keep on making 'em.' 

Mrs. Messina's altar was a large one. A big statue of Saint Jo- 
seph dominated a central group of plaster saints who wore gaud- 
ily painted robes of red, blue and gold. There were paper flowers 
of pink and blue, scarlet and orange, and vases and bowls filled 
with real Easter lilies, carnations and roses. Trailing bridal 
wreath wound about the top, from which were suspended silver 
bells and ornaments obviously borrowed from last year's Christ- 
mas Tree. Three tiers and a long table held platters of food of 
every kind and description. Tall lighted candles flickered to- 
ward the ceiling, for it was nearly time for the noon hour ' Feast 
of the Saints.' 

When the priest arrived, five people took seats at a small 
cable. In the place of honor facing the altar was an elderly man 

Saint Joseph' s Day p/ 

in a loose brown robe, wearing a pasteboard crown and carrying 
a long stick with a snowy lily attached to the end of it. He, it 
was whispered, was the good Saint Joseph himself. And the girl 
opposite him, wearing the light blue veil over her dark hair, was 
the Virgin Mary. Three children grouped about them: a boy 
wearing a halo fashioned of pasteboard and a raincoat and a girl 
in a white cambric dress and veil, and another in ordinary 
clothes. These three were Mrs. Messina's two and one half 

The priest took a position behind ' Saint Joseph/ chanted some 
prayers in Latin and sprinkled water over the altar. Then he 
turned and said: 'Now you are all blessed! Go ahead and eat.' 
And he left the room. 

Then 'Saint Joseph' knelt before the altar and in a moment 
every person in the room was on his knees. The prayers over, a 
woman stepped forward, gathered a bouquet of red carnations 
from the altar and placed it in the arms of the ' Virgin Mary. ' 

Now the news spread that a procession would take place to a 
near-by church, where a petition would be made that Mrs. Mes- 
sina's eldest daughter, who was pregnant, might have an easy 

'Saint Joseph' in the lead, everybody marched three blocks to 
the church and returned, carefully retracing the same route on 
the way back to the house that they had used upon leaving. To 
have varied this in even a small degree would certainly have 
brought bad luck. Perhaps Mrs. Messina's eldest daughter might 
not receive the full benefits of the petition just made. 

Again seated at the table, in precisely the same order as before, 
the five were served from the altar, each receiving a tiny portion 
of everything. Only after they had finished eating could the fam- 
ily and neighbors eat, and the lucky beans, bits of Saint Joseph's 
bread and bay leaves be distributed. Outside the house people 
were gathering, most of them lean and poorly clad. Whatever 
was left would be given these poor. Such is the custom on Saint 
Joseph's Day. 

Originating in Sicily, and long a day for feasting and dancing 
among Italians, Saint Joseph's Day is widely celebrated among 
the Italians in New Orleans and near-by towns. The date, 

p 6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

March 19, is considered a day's respite from the fasting and spir- 
itual sackcloth and ashes of the Lenten season, and is sometimes 
known as Mi-Careme (Mid-Lent). 

Legend holds that in the Middle Ages a group of Italians were 
exiled from their country and set adrift on the sea in a small boat. 
In despair they prayed to Saint Joseph for guidance and protec- 
tion, promising to honor him each year if their lives were spared. 
Cast upon the shore of an uninhabited island, they immediately 
erected an altar of branches and palmetto leaves and decorated it 
with wisteria, wild red lilies and other flowers. 

But even before that Saint Joseph had received some measure of 
recognition. In the fourth century, Helena, mother of the Em- 
peror Constantine, erected a basilica at Bethlehem in honor of 
Saint Joseph. The Coptic Church included the feast of Saint 
Joseph, the Carpenter, in its church calendar, the date being set 
at July 2.0, and in most of the early churches Joseph was honored 
along with Saint Simeon, Saint Anna and other saints associated 
with the birth and infancy of Jesus. 

The first church dedicated to Joseph was erected in Bologna in 
112.9, n * s f east day being celebrated shortly before Easter at that 
period. However, church leaders of the fourteenth century, in- 
cluding Saint Gertrude, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Bridget 
of Sweden, declared he had never received his rightful place and 
insisted that he be accorded more fitting honors. It was only 
then that this festival was officially inserted in the Franciscan 
calendar, and under the papal rule of Sixtus IV, the date was set 
at March 19. In 172.6 Pope Benedict XIII placed Joseph's name 
in the Litany of Saints, and in 1870 Pius IX solemnly declared 
him the patron saint of the Roman Catholic Church. 

But New Orleans Italians have never required any urging to 
honor Saint Joseph. The morning of March 19 finds Catholic 
churches filled to overflowing, at noon the ceremonies at the 
home altars are held with ever-increasing enthusiasm, and the 
night is celebrated with dances and parties all over the city. 

Interesting is the companion tradition of the swallows of San 
Juan Capistrano at the California mission. The New Orleans Item 
reported the annual return of the swallows on March 19. 1940, as 
follows : 

Saint Joseph's Day 

The swallows of San Juan kept their age-old rendezvous be- 
neath the eaves of historic San Juan Capistrano Mission today. 
They began arriving out of a murky sky from the south around 
6:30 A.M., and within a few minutes were waging their annual 
warfare with the swifts which had moved into their quarters 
since their departure last Saint John's Day, October 2.3. As 
usual, the swallows were victorious, and soon they were set- 
tling themselves for their summer's stay. 

For a century, tradition has held that the swallows have 
left the adobe walls of the mission, founded in 1776 by the 
Order of Saint Francis, annually on the feast day of its patron 
saint, and have returned on Saint Joseph's Day. 

The popular song of 1940, ' When the Swallows Come Back to 
Capistrano,' was composed by a New Orleans Negro Leon 
Rene, formerly a student of Xavier University. 

The larger Saint Joseph altars in New Orleans are built in tiers, 
upon which is arranged the food, which usually includes every- 
thing that can be bought in markets or delicatessens and many 
homemade Italian delicacies unknown in other American homes. 
Always occupying the place of honor in the center is a large 
statue of Saint Joseph, and grouped about this, statues of other 
saints. There are huge candles, some weighing as much as ten 
pounds, gilded and embellished with representations of angels 
and flowers. Electric lights, Christmas-tree ornaments, vases and 
bowls of fresh and artificial flowers are placed here and there 
among dishes and platters of food. The Times-Picayune described 
the edibles on one altar thus : 

There were three types of Italian bread, made in the shapes 
of wreaths, as offerings to the Holy Family. A stuffed lobster, 
a bak,ed redfish and quantities of shrimp occupied places of 
prominence. There were alligator pears, prickly pears, nuts, 
Japanese persimmons, fried cauliflower, fig cakes, snap beans, 
stuffed crabs, doughnuts, peanuts, crayfish, pineapples, grape- 
fruit, mulberries, onions, celery, nectarines, oranges, almonds, 
tomatoes, grapes, plums, artichokes, dates and frosted layer 
cakes by the dozen. 

In and out between the squash, spinach, fruit cake and ripe 
peaches were bowls of antipasto relish and bottles of wine. 
Neat cones of pigulasto, a pastry of dough and molasses, lent 

9 8 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

an ornamental touch with the many vases of roses, lilies, car- 
nations and sweet peas. Sweet-scented pittosporum twined 
about the structure. Most of the food was to be given away. . .. 

Everyone is invited to come and pay homage to Saint Joseph. 
In the New Orleans newspaper columns known as the Personal 
Columns always filled with curious notices peculiar to the 
city public invitations are extended annually to anyone wish- 
ing to visit the altars. 

Mr. and Mrs. V. Gennusa, Sr., 52.30 Laurel Street, invite you 
to visit their St. Joseph's Altar, March 18 and 19. 

Mr. and Mrs. P. Farrugia, 1301 Prytania Street, invite you to 
visit their St. Joseph's Altar. 

We cordially invite the public to visit a St. Joseph's Altar at 
1046 Magazine Street. 

Mrs. J. Mosena, 3605 Banks Street, invites the public to visit 
her St. Joseph's Altar, March 18, at night, March 19, in day. 

St. Joseph's Altar, on March i9th, in St. Expedit Temple, 3933 
Hollywood Street. 

You can visit 100 St. Joseph's Altars from list of names at 
shrine of E. A. Zatarain, 915 Valmont Street. 

Mr. and Mrs. Natale Schiambra request their many friends to 
visit their St. Joseph's Altar at their residence, 406 S. Genois 
Street, on March 18 and 19. 

The public is invited to visit the St. Joseph's Altar of Mr. and 
Mrs. Sebastian Ambrosia, 1662. Annunciation Street. Monday 
and Tuesday, March 18 and 19. 

There will be a St. Joseph's Altar at St. Raymond's Chapel, 
3108 Melpomene. 

Public is invited to visit St. Joseph's Altar, 915 Governor 
Nicholls Street. Mrs. John Quagline. 

EVERYBODY cordially invited to St. Joseph's Altar, 1839 Touro 
Street. Mrs. S. Lombardo. 

The Saint Joseph's bread and the lucky beans are the most im- 
portant items on the altars, and a small piece of bread, a lucky 
bean and sometimes a bay leaf or two are given every visitor. 

Saint Joseph' s Day p# 

The beans will bring good luck, and the bit of bread kept in the 
house all year will protect the occupants from ever starving. 
Most visitors leave a coin at the altar. 

Some Italians, having made a special vow, beg for the food for 
their altars, going from door to door, store to store and friend to 
friend, asking for money or a donation of food. 

Statues of Saint Joseph holding the Christ Child have long 
been popular for private altars in the homes of New Orleans 
Creoles; and many New Orleanians carry miniature representa- 
tions of the saint in small capsules in their pockets or pocket- 
books. If a favor is asked of Saint Joseph and not granted, the 
figure is sometimes stood on its head as punishment until the 
wish is fulfilled. 

The night of Saint Joseph's Day has always been a time for 
parties and dances in New Orleans. These celebrations, of course, 
always end promptly at the stroke of twelve, for at midnight 
Lent is resumed, and fasting and penance again become a part of 
daily lives. For a century Saint Joseph's Night has been an im- 
portant date on the social calendar of New Orleans. As early as 
March 16, 1858, the New Orleans Daily Picayune reported: 


At the Orleans Theatre, on the evening of St. Joseph's Day, 
Friday, the i9th inst., a grand fancy dress and masquerade ball 
is to be given, on the plan of those of the Grand Opera in Paris. 
From the preparations made and making for this affair we are 
induced to anticipate a magnificent result. Tickets may be 
procured at the box office of the theatre. 

Masquerades and dances still take place in New Orleans and 
its vicinity that night. Many clubs give parties, and most of the 
Saint Joseph altar-donors terminate the night in dancing. Every- 
one considers it a joyous intermission in the Lenten season, 
which is so strictly observed here. Even night-clubs and cafes 
have more than usual crowds. And these parties are by no 
means confined to the Italian element, or even to those people of 
Roman Catholic faith, but are enjoyed by all types and national- 
ities of Orleanians. Negroes celebrate Saint Joseph's Night by 

TOO Gumbo Ya-Ya 

donning their Mardi Gras costumes, a peculiar custom dating 
back many years. On South Rampart Street, blacks, browns and 
high yellows step high, wide and fancy, and there are numerous 
balls and dances. 

In 1940, March 19 fell in Holy Week, and Archbishop Joseph 
Francis Rummel of New Orleans asked that there be no altars 
and no celebrations on this date, that April 2. be substituted. 
There was much consternation. Orleanians were faced with a 
crisis only to be compared with the two Thanksgivings of recent 
memory. Some Italians dutifully obeyed, but others refused, 
asserting Saint Joseph wouldn't like his day changed. So New 
Orleans had two opportunities and two excuses to give parties, 
and no Orleanian, Italian or otherwise, ever quibbled over an 
extra celebration. 

Mrs. Coniglio had her altar March 19. 

'Ain't it a shame to change Saint Joseph's Day?' she de- 
manded. 'It's not right to do a thing like that. The whole 
world, she's gone crazy!' She sighed disgustedly. 'How'd you 
like somebody to change your birthday?' 

Mr. Coniglio volunteered his opinion. 

'We have a fine altar for thirty-four years. Saint Joseph he 
never say change no date. Saint Joseph Day is March i9th and 
March i9th she stay! 

' My wife and me come from Corleone that's in Italy like 
immigrants, and when we come, Caterina that's my wife 
she is very seeck. She go to the hospitals and all the doctors 
stand around and look at her like they don't know nothing, and 
they don't do nothing. So Caterina, my wife, she makes a prom- 
ise to Saint Joseph to make him a altar every year if he makes her 
well. Sure, the doctors come see her every day, but they do no 
good. It's Saint Joseph make Caterina well. 

'She promise to beg for her altar, so she ask everybody for 
money. Some people, say no, some give a nickel, some people 
gets mad. So Caterina she says she's stop asking people. She pay 
for everything herself. Then Saint Joseph he get mad. You 
would not believe it, but Saint Joseph come to Caterina in a 
dream like and he say: "You promise to beg for my altar. You 
must ask at least three people to keep your vow." So Caterina 

Saint Joseph's Day 101 

ask three people every year now. Her Uncle Pete he gives a 
dollar, my daughter Lena gives fifty cents and Caterina's friend 
she's the lady lives next door here she gives a quarter. 
Like that Caterina keep her vow and Saint Joseph don't get mad. 

' Some people make a speculation with Saint Joseph. They beg 
from everybody a nickel here, a quarter there. Pretty damn 
soon they make for themselves a lot of money and keep it all for 
them. My family is not like that. But we have our altar this 
year as always. What we promise Saint Joseph we do. I don't 
care what anybody say. I call the priest to bless it and he say, 
"Okay. Goo'bye!" 

But Mrs. Caparo disagreed. ' Most of the priests wouldn't bless 
their altars,' she insisted. ' And what good is an altar if it ain't 
blessed? The Father told me I did right having mine on April id. ' 

Mrs. Caparo 's altar was huge and extremely elaborate. Exact 
copies of sacred objects found on the Roman Catholic altars had 
been constructed of cake and coated with various icings. There 
were crosses, decorated with stylized plants, hearts, roosters and 
stars, all of cake and pastry. Everyone in the neighborhood had 
contributed. Even friends in the country had sent little lambs of 
cake, stuffed with figs and covered with a fleece of grated coco- 
nut. These last were Mrs. Caparo's special pride, and rested in a 
place of honor near Saint Joseph's feet. 

The Caparo family did not consider the altar in an entirely 
religious light. Every now and then one of the children would 
make a running dash, snatch a cake or doughnut from a dish and 
vanish as quickly as he had appeared. The only admonishment 
given would be a half-humorous warning that Saint Joseph 
would make his teeth rot if he ate his food now. ;;.&.; 

'When they send my boy to war,' Mrs. Caparo explained, 'I 
promise Saint Joseph if he send my boy back and he not have to 
fight and not get himself hurt, I make him an altar every year. 
So, my boy, he's in the camp, see? And I was all the time cry and 
all the time pray and pray. The next day my boy was to leave to 
go fight, the lady from downstairs she comes upstairs and tells me 
she has a telegram for me. It is from my boy, and he says he's 
gonna come home tomorrow, is not have to fight on account of 
there's something wrong with his neck. I get so happy I cry and 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

laugh all together at one time ! Right away I go see the sisters 
on Rampart and Conti Streets. They send away for me and I get 
a statue of Saint Joseph for fifty dollars, and I make an altar 
every year and put the statue on top.' 

Among the saints on the altar was a picture of Huey P. Long. 

'No, I don't consider him a saint or nothing,' Mrs. Caparo 
explained. 'I just feel sorry for him. He looks like my other 
boy who was drowned. My boy is drowned in the river.' 

A heavy-set, gray-haired man entered the room. 'I am Plit- 
nick,' said he 'Mrs. Caparo's hoosband. You wouldn't be- 
lieve it, but I am a Jew. All the time I study and write. I am 
vorking on some short stories, but I have the timidity and I am 
afraid they are no good. Joost now I am studying the conscious. 
You see, there is the subconscious, the conscious and the super- 
conscious. We Russians understand the finer things of life. That 
is why we are all the time so sad/ 

Mrs. Caparo explained. 'Mr. Plitnick is my second husband. 
I keep my first husband's name because everybody know me by 
that. He was kicked in the heart by a mule and was killed. It 
was terrible.' 

Mr. Plitnick frowned. ' Go get some Saint Joseph's bread and 

'Keep the bread until it storms,' instructed Mr. Plitnick's 
wife, Mrs. Caparo. 'If it storms and you take a piece and throw 
it outside and say, " Saint Joseph, make the storm go away!" you 
see it go away and not touch you. He's a great man, Saint 

One of the most elaborate and most famed altars in New Or- 
leans is the annual one at the delicatessen of Biaccio Montalbano 
at 72.4 St. Philip Street. His place of business is a shrine all year. 

Entering a screen door from the banquette, you find yourself in a 
narrow room, furnished with a long counter, shelves and a glass 
showcase, and on the shelves, among jars of antipasto and an- 
chovies, cheeses and sausages imported from Italy, are numerous 
statues of saints, crucifixes and holy pictures. Statues, too, oc- 
cupy half of the counter, and at the far end is an altar in which 
burn crimson vigil lights and on which repose statues of the 
Holy Family. Another third of the counter is colorfully occu- 

Saint Joseph's Day 103 

pied by an array of at least fifty gaily decorated highball glasses, 
filled with oil and floating tapers, some always burning, having 
been lighted by those who come here to make a wish. All the 
walls and the ceiling above are covered with portraits of the 
Christ, of saints, of various popes. A bowl on the counter offers 
Saint Joseph's beans, and another bowl receives offerings from 
anyone wishing to drop a few coins. 

Behind this is the 'Roma Room' - really the dining-room of 
the establishment. Over the two doors leading into it, in letters 
of gold, are inscribed the words : 


All the walls and the ceiling are here, too, colorfully decorated 
with holy pictures. Toward the top of the walls, completely en- 
circling the room, is the ' Way of the Cross, ' a series of pictures 
depicting Jesus' journey to Calvary and the Crucifixion. Beneath 
this is a varied array of saints' pictures, photographs of several 
popes and high dignitaries of the Roman Catholic Church. 
Framing the pictures on the ceiling and dangling downward are 
Christmas-tree ornaments of every shape and color. And at every 
door leading from the Roma Room is a font containing holy 

A large radio and phonograph combination at one end of the 
room is converted into an altar, its top holding statues of the 
Holy Family, its front and sides plastered with pictures. Mr. 
Montalbano owns a collection of recorded sacred and classic 
music. At the other end of the room is a portrait of George 
Washington, flanked on each side by three pairs of pictures: the 
first, identical representations of 'Peace'; the second, identical 
colored chromos of the Pope; and the third, identical portraits of 
Franklin D. Roosevelt. On one wall is a vivid picture in bril- 
liant red and green colors of a pretty and voluptuous Italian 
maid, daintily holding a bunch of yellow bananas in one plump 

'We sure had us a time!' said Mrs. Rose Datri. 'I cooked 


Gumbo Ya-Ya 

thirty-two pounds of spaghetti. You should have seen the cere- 
mony at my altar. It was grand ! We had saints three poor 
children from the neighborhood to knock on two different 
doors in the yard, coming to our door last. Mamma asked who 
they were. They answered, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph,'* and 
Mamma threw the door wide. Then everybody kissed the hand 
of "Jesus" and made a wish. When they sat down we fed them 
orange slices to break their fast, and after that they ate some of 
everything on the altar. One of the little boys ate so much he 
got sick. No, I can't remember if it was "Jesus" or "Joseph." 

The ceremony at the home of Mrs. Vita Alphonse differed 
slightly. At noon a knock came on the door. 

'No, there is no shelter here,' someone called through the 
door, in soft Italian. (This is an enactment of the Holy Family 
seeking shelter in wayside inns.) 

Again the knock came, and the answer was the same, 'No, 
there is no shelter here.' 

The third knock was answered: 'Who is it?' 

'I am Saint Joseph,' came the reply. ' I seek shelter for Mary, 
Jesus and Saint Albert.' 

Then, amidst cries of welcome, 'Enter! Enter! We are deeply 
honored!' the quartet was admitted. 

The mother of the household knelt and prayed, her eyes fixed 
on the statue in the center of the altar. 

'Oh, Saint Joseph, help us! Saint Joseph, protect us! Saint 
Joseph, we love you! Saint Joseph, we give thanks for all our 
blessings ! 

'Our Father, who art in Heaven. Hallowed be thy name.v. 

'Hail, Mary, Mother of God 

The 'saints' ate. Then the family and friends. 

The Sacred Heart Orphanage has an altar, the entire audito- 
rium being utilized for this purpose. At one side of the room is a 
life-sized statue of Saint Joseph, surrounded by large and small 
tapers, candelabra and vases filled with white Easter lilies. 
Besides the usual delectable foods on the altar, there were long 
tables holding piles of Italian bread, fashioned in all sorts of 
figures, including twists, braid, crosses, circles and crescents, 
and bundles of spaghetti, macaroni and cavatuni tied together 

Saint Joseph's Day 

with blue satin bows. Stacked on the floor near the tables were 
sacks of sugar, rice, beans and flour. This altar is donated each 
year by Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Orlando. Some of the food, 
however, is contributed by other people. Everything is retained 
for the children of the orphanage. 

One of the Italian nuns here was much impressed at having her 
picture taken near the altar. 

'If I look fat in my face,' she confided, Til send it to my 
mamma in Italy. If I look skinny in my face, I won't. She wor- 
ries for me.' 

Similar is the altar -at the Cabrini Day Nursery. For years this 
altar has been given by Mr. Peter Orlando, brother of the donor 
of the one at the Sacred Heart Orphanage. Here, too, the food is 
kept for the children. 

Curious is the adoption of this Italian custom by New Orleans 
Negroes. The Item Tribune, March 17, 1940, announced: 'Elab- 
orate preparations have been made in the Negro spiritualist 
churches for Saint Joseph's Day. Among the churches taking 
part are the Saint Joseph Helping Hand Spiritualist, Algiers; the 
Eternal Love Christian Spiritualist, Clio Street; Saint James 
Temple No. 7, Felicity near Freret; Star of the East, Constanti- 
nople and Saratoga Streets; and Saint Paul No. 7, Saratoga near 
Thalia Street.' 

Reverend Maude Shannon says it was a divine call that made 
her build the first Saint Joseph's altar for Negroes fourteen years 

'I come out of my door that mornin',' says Reverend Maude, 
' and I heared a voice talkin' to me just as plain as if there 'd been 
someone walkin' by my side. The voice says I must get together 
the sisters of the church, and we must gather candles and cakes 
and make an altar for Saint Joseph's Day. So I threw out my 
hands to show the voice I done heared its words, and I called the 
sisters together and we went out with baskets to gather the food 
for our flock.' 

Reverend Shannon is head of an independent Negro church, 
the Daniel Helping Hand Mission, but her altars exhibit no radi- 
cal departures from the ones of the Roman Catholic Italians, even 
including among the altar foods antipasto, Italian salads and 

106 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

pineapple cakes. Reverend Shannon indicated can after can of 
food, candy, fruit, bowls of -potato salad and hard-boiled eggs 
split in half and stuffed with pickle and yellow egg yolks. 

'Sometimes when I had my first altars,' she said, 'I'd get 
scared they ain't got enough food on 'em for all the peoples 
what's comin'. One time when I was givin' it out to the poor, 
there is so many peoples, I don't know what to do. I started 
prayin' to the Lord the whole time I was passin' out the stuff. 
And the good Lord must've heared me, 'cause the faster I gived 
it away, the more food there is, and after all them peoples is fed, 
there is still more, so we just puts that in baskets and sends it to 
the orphans. Then I thanked the Lord for his timely aid, and 
went to bed.' 

Though she won't discuss it, there is a rumor that the money 
to pay for the Reverend Shannon's altars is contributed by the 
gamblers in her section of the city. They come to get the lucky 
beans and leave money behind. 

But Saint Joseph's Day, with its altars, celebrations and reli- 
gious ceremonies, belongs to the Italians. And the altars are by 
no means confined to New Orleans, though they are perhaps 
more numerous and more elaborate there, but may be found in all 
sections of Louisiana where Italians reside. 

Proof of their devotion to this saint is the fact that a recent 
tabulation of names given to boys in New Orleans showed that 
'Joseph' was far in the lead of all others and had been for a num- 
ber of years. Perhaps Saint Joseph's appeal to them lies largely 
in their knowledge that he was one of the common, hard- 
working people of the world like the vast majority of mankind. 
Someone in the Times-Picayune of March 13, 1937, framed it in 
these words: 

Saint Joseph is loved by his followers as a man among men, 
a carpenter who worked as men must work, who grew hot and 
tired as ordinary people do, who smashed his thumb with his 
hammer and got splinters in his hands and yet was deemed 
worthy to live as the husband of the Mother of God. 

Chapter 6 

Saint Rosalia's Day 

Saint Rosalia was daughter of a noble family descended from Charle- 
magne. She was born at Palermo in Sicily, and despising in her youth 
earthly vanities, made herself an abode in a cave on Monte Pelegrino, 
three miles from Palermo, where she completed the sacrifice of her 
heart to God by austere penance and manual labor, sanctified by assidu- 
ous prayer and the constant union of her soul with God. She died in 
1 1 60. Her body was found buried in a grot under the mountain, in the 
year of the jubilee, 1615, under Pope Urban VIII, and was translated 
into the metropolitical church of Palermo, of which she was chosen a 
patroness. To her patronage that island ascribes the ceasing of a griev- 
ous pestilence at the same time. 

From Lives of the Saints 
By John Gilmary Shea, LL.D. 


her eyes and a nervous tug at her sunbonnet, 'was like this. 
Saint Rosalia is a beautiful young girl. Her papa is afraid she's 
gonna be a old maid, and he want her to get married. Me, I can't 
remember her mamma's name, but her papa's name is Ricaldo, 
and he is a king. But she don't want to get married. She wants 
to be pure and stay a virgin. All the time they is fight. He want 
to and she don't want to. One day she is combin' her hair in her 

io8 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

room, and her crucifix start talkin' to her. They make plans, and 
that night an angel come and take her up on top a mountain. 
No one, not even her papa, knows where she's at! 

'She die, and still nobody don't know where she's at. Long 
time after there is like a plague in Palermo. Then a young man 
see Saint Rosalia in a dream, and he tell the people they find her 
poor bones everybody what ain't dead yet gonna get well. They 
go up on the mountain and bring her bones down. Then every- 
body happy.' Mrs. Ales blew her nose vigorously. 

About fifty years old, but with white hair and eyes startlingly 
blue for an Italian, Mrs. Anna Ales is a resident of Harvey, Lou- 
isiana, where one of the state's two Saint Rosalia processions is 
held annually. Wearing a starched sunbonnet and a dress almost 
to her ankles, she proudly exhibited some of the exquisitely 
embroidered linens she had just laundered for the Saint Rosalia 
Church in Harvey, explaining that she intended to work for the 
Church all her life. She made a vow to do that in 1918, when the 
influenza epidemic swept through Harvey. That was the begin- 
ning of the celebration of the saint in that town. 

'Everybody was sick,' said Mrs. Ales. 'We asked Saint Ro- 
salia to stop the plague, and the plague stopped, so we promise 
to hold a procession just like in Palermo and in Kenner. Me, I 
had my mother and sister sick, and I was like crazy. All the time 
I cry and cry. Like that, soon as I make my promise, they get 
well. Was same thing when I was dyin'. I had three operations, 
nine doctors; nothing do me no good. I ask Saint Rosalia for 
help, and, like that, I was well. 

' We do all the work here ourselfs. Cook the food for the fes- 
tival, make crowns for the angels, everything. Me, I make all 
the angels' crowns.' She showed a small wreath of silver-paper 
leaves. 'I tell you the truth, sometimes I get so tired making 
crowns for angels, I almost scream my head off! They got two' 
hundred of 'em, and, me, I started that idea! They got about a 
hundred little boys, too, they call acolytes, but they ain't no 

The Harvey celebration takes place either the first or the sec- 
ond Sunday in the month of September; on the other Sunday an- 
other procession is held at Kenner, Louisiana. The events occur 

Saint Rosalia's Day 109 

on different dates because of the proximity of the villages to each 
other, Harvey being just across the Mississippi from New Or- 
leans, Kenner about ten miles above the city. One year one town 
has its celebration first, the following year the other. This not 
only keeps the peace, but allows each to attend the other. Any- 
way, Saint Rosalia's Day is actually established as September 4. 

Harvey begins the celebration with a festival and bazaar in 
the churchyard the Saturday night before. Sunday morning 
there is High Mass, and that afternoon all who make the pil- 
grimage meet at Saint Joseph's Church in Gretna at one-thirty. 
From here they walk the two miles to Harvey, carrying a life- 
sized statue of the saint, who in this representation wears blue 
and white robes, a wreath of flowers about her flowing brown 
hair, carries a skull and prayer book in one hand and a crucifix 
and lily in the other, and is set on a wooden base with long 
trestles, requiring the services of a dozen bearers. 

The day of the 1941 celebration she wore an additional wreath 
of real flowers and her ankles were banked with bouquets 
brought by the worshipers ; from her shoulders dripped streamers 
of red, green and golden satin to which was pinned paper money, 
this being another custom of the occasion. As she was borne 
from the church, Frank De Salvo, president of the Victor 
Emmanuel III Society, stepped forward, unpinned the bills, and 
made notations in a book. While he was engaged in this, women 
crowded forward, many with tears striping their cheeks, mum- 
bled prayers, and laid gnarled, work worn fingers on the hem of 
the image's plaster robes, and on her feet. ' We have to park the 
statue outside the churches at both the beginning and the end of 
the pilgrimage,' explained Mr. De Salvo, 'so the people can 
touch it and ask favors.' 

But this was quickly over, and the procession took formation 
out in the street : first, Boy Scout Troop 2.00, with a large Ameri- 
can flag at the head; then Father Wester, pastor of Saint Jo- 
seph's Church, flanked by a half-dozen altar boys; next the ban- 
ners of the organizations taking part ' Victor Emmanuel III 
Society, Harvey, La.,' read one; 'Organization Italiana San 
Guiseppe di Amesville, La.,' another; finally 'Fratellanza Itali- 
ana di Santa Rosalia, Kenner, La.,' revealing the presence of 


Gumbo Ya-Ya 

members of the organization which would hold its celebration on 
the Sunday to come. Behind these came the thirteen-piece Roma 
Band, with Saint Rosalia and her bearers following. 

After this marched two hundred little girls, all less than five 
years of age, all dressed alike in white dresses with stiff little 
wings attached to their shoulders and Mrs. Ales's crowns on 
their heads. All were very angelic, keeping their hands clasped 
before them, and praying loudly. The acolytes marched next, 
half as many small boys of the same ages, dressed in white robes, 
blue capes and white skull caps. Not so pious, these were in- 
clined to push and shove and giggle. Finally one in the rear re- 
leased a particularly audible howl, and a red-faced stout woman 
rushed forward, gave his shoulders a shake, scolded in Italian, 
then vanished to the rear, making the sign of the cross. 

Next came the Children of Mary, an. order of girls of adoles- 
cent years, all in snowy white with flowing veils of ethereal 
blue. These recited 'Hail Marys' over and over, one tall, thin, 
very dark girl serving as leader. Her voice high above the rest, 
it was always she who began each new line of the prayer, and in 
the same sing-song tempo. Each of the Children of Mary carried 
a paper fan advertising the 'Rotollo Motor Company/ 

The men followed, most of them in white linen. After them 
were the women, who, though they walked behind their men, 
did not trail humbly, but marched proudly, most of them well 
fed and of comfortable ages, nearly all carrying umbrellas as sun- 
shades. Many of them were barefooted or in their stockings. 
Two State motorcycle policemen took the lead, and immediately 
there was a buzz of conversation and verbal expression of last- 
minute thoughts. 

'Anthony, you carry my shoes!' 

'Carry 'em yourself. I ain't no mule.' 

The ringing voice of a long dark girl : ' Blessed art thou among 
women . . . / ' 

'Gladys, where'd you leave the car?' 

'My Gawd! I don't know, me!' 

The Child of Mary: ' Fruit of thy womb . . . /' 

An irreligious youth perched on a bread box before a grocery 
called out, 'Look at de Mardi Gras parade!' 

Saint Rosalia s Day in 

1 Here comes de second float !' announced a pal lounging against 
a post. 

'Blessed art thou among women . . . /' The long dark girl. 

The angels burst into song. The acolytes giggled. The men 
talked. The women, rosaries entwined in their fingers, prayed, 
or gossiped, or sang; a few wept steadily. Many cars trailed the 
pilgrims, moving at a snail's pace. There was, literally, much 
color. The president, the grand marshal and the marshals all 
wore red, white and green ribbons across their chests; the bearers 
of the statue, white duck trousers and green tunics trimmed with 
gold braid. Two others, not carrying, but walking, one on each 
side, wore white trousers and deep purple tunics. A stout little 
marshal with fierce mustaches wore an immense round badge 
that resembled an old-fashioned bouquet, of red, pink and yellow 
paper roses finished off with wide streamers of red, green and 
white satin. 

Two men argued loudly over the fact for the first time the flag 
of Italy was not carried. Each had an excellent, though sophis- 
tic argument, one stating that 'the Catholic Church is really 
Italian, since Rome is in Italy, and the Pope is Italian, and he is 
in Rome, and most everybody in Harvey is Italian, so Harvey is 
Italian, and Saint Rosalia is Italian, etc., etc.' What, he de- 
manded, did Mussolini have to do with it? ' Saint Peter was Ital- 
ian, too,' he concluded, a bit triumphantly. 

' You alia time wanta be a damn dago!' said the other. ' Har- 
vey is American, and you are American, and now Saint Rosalia 
is American, and Saint Peter was never no Italian. He was a 

The first man said he wished he had a beer. 

There were stops for icewater from pitchers and glasses set out 
before the picket fences along the way. The bus came along, 
got 'stuck' in the middle of the marchers, and there was a noisy 
exchange of wisecracks between the passengers and the pilgrims. 
But at last the bus still in the middle the procession 
reached Harvey, and here the street leading to the church, and 
the church itself, were elaborately decorated with flags and ban- 
ners. The banquettes were lined with people crying greetings. 
As the procession reached the church, the bells clanged and 

ii2 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

banged, a cannon went off with a great roar; there was a crack- 
ling, explosive din of firecrackers. Puffs of black smoke drifted 
over the heads of the marchers. 

' Blessed art tbou among women . . ./ ' screamed the long dark girl, 
with renewed vigor. 

Boy Scout Troop 2.00 lined the walk leading to the church, and 
here Saint Rosalia was 'parked* for another few minutes, and 
the women came forward to touch the statue, and pray, and weep. 
The fireworks grew louder and louder. The Roma Band climbed 
to a platform in the churchyard and began to play. Already the 
grounds were filled with people buying and gambling at the 
bazaars. In a room which was a wing of the church proper, a 
juke box was going full blast, and several young people were 
dancing. Here tables and chairs were set up, where later meat- 
balls and spaghetti and steaming bowls of gumbo would be sold. 

Saint Rosalia was unscrewed from her base and carried into the 
church, the fat little man with the mustaches and the old- 
fashioned bouquet badge running excitedly up and down the 
aisle, supervising operations, as the statue was carefully replaced 
in the niche it occupies all year. The church was jammed with 
the devotees, all incongruously mingling the festive spirit of the 
day with much genuflecting and holy-water sprinkling, as Father 
Wester stepped before the altar and began the Benediction. 

This over, the bazaars did a rushing business, selling drinks, 
sandwiches and candy; cakes and baskets of groceries were raf- 
fled. Everyone had a fine time. The celebration lasted until mid- 
night, closing with a great display of fireworks, during which 
a huge representation of the saint whose day was being honored 
was sent flashing against the night sky. 

Mrs. Zito, one of Saint Rosalia's most enthusiastic admirers in 
Kenner, was unusually excited a few days before the celebration 
in that village. In fact, Mr. Zito was outside their grocery, tak- 
ing some fresh air, possibly because the atmosphere within was 
too electric. 'Mamma knows all about Saint Rosalia's Day,' he 
admitted . ' Mamma ! ' 

There was the slap-slap sound of loose slippers, and Mrs. Zito 
appeared, a short and stout woman with a great pile of graying 

Saint Rosalia's Day n $ 

hair and a kindly face. This morning she wore a house dress as 
loose as the slippers on her naked feet, and twin rivers of perspi- 
ration streamed from her temples. ' It depends on what you gotta 
know,' said Mrs. Zito modestly. 'That is the whole thing. 
First, I gotta know what you gotta know.' 

Mrs. Zito's grocery is unusual one tremendous room, with 
walls and floor of broad unpainted boards. At one end are the 
counter and shelves, at the other long benches, a sewing machine 
and a juke box. Between is enough space to hold a Carnival 
ball. Even now the music box was offering ' Fan It !' with Woody 
Herman and His Orchestra giving their all. Mr. Zito executed a 
few dance steps. 

' Looka my jellybean !' roared Mrs. Zito. ' I tell you, Papa is a 
kick ! We got us fourteen children two dead and look how 
little Papa is. You would not believe it, huh, to look at him?' 
Unlike his spouse, Mr. Zito is the size and weight of a twelve- 
year-old boy. Now he grinned with embarrassment, ceased 
dancing, and vanished behind the case containing meats. 

Mrs. Zito leaned back comfortably in the room's one rocker. 
'Every year when the parade passes here, I make my spich,' she 
said. ' I been makin' it for four years. I say four years, but maybe 
is more. Papa, is it four years I been makin' my spich?' 

Papa's eyes, nearly bald skull and wispy white mustache ap- 
peared around the edge of the meat case. 'Is more than four 
years!' he yelled across the big room. 

'Papa says is more than four years,' asserted Mrs. Zito. 

'Is much more than four years,' Mr. Zito reiterated. 

'Is much more than four years,' Mrs. Zito echoed. 'Maybe is 
five-six years. I cannot tell you. What I say in my spich? That 
is also a thing I cannot tell you. You cannot say it in American, 
see? Is got to be word for word. It is too beautiful. My God, 
it is beautiful!' Mrs. Zito wiped her streaming brow with a 
handkerchief. ' Maybe sometime my daughter is transpose it to 
American for you.' 

4 No can be done !' Mr. Zito crossed the room. ' They is not got 
the American words for the Italian words. It is too beautiful.' 

'Papa says it is too beautiful,' said Mrs. Zito. 'You see, I say 
two pieces. No! No! Not one. Two pieces. I tell you the 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

truth, they is so beautiful everybody cry to beat the ba*id.' 

She was weeping now, and had to touch her handkerchief to 
her eyes. 'All I can say is this,' she sighed. 'Santa Rosalia go 
up on the mountain all by herself. You see, she is so young and 
innocent, and she suffer and suffer. I tell the peoples that in my 
spich, see? She isa up on this mountain, and the Devil he come 
and tackle her. Everywhere she go, the Devil he keep tacklin' 
her. At last she run away, but he catch her, and tackle her again. 
And then she fall on her knees, and the Devil he look at her, and 
he say he could not tackle her to save his life. She is look so pure 
and innocent he could not do nothing, see? My mamma tell me 
all about it. Sure. And her mamma tell her. That's a way we 
believe, see? And that's like I say in my two pieces, only is so 
beautiful in Italian nobody can stand it, they all cry to beat the 

Mrs. Zito was weeping profusely now, but she stopped, 
sniffed, turned toward the screen door leading to the living- 
quarters behind the store. 'Francis!' she cried loudly, 'did you 
watch the pot on the stove? Put a glass of water in it. It's the 
beans, Francis?' There was no answer, but evidently all was as 
it should be, for she murmured: 'Excuse me, pliz! What was I 

'You know when I'm makin' my spich I don't hardly know 
what I doin', I tell you the truth. All I got on my mind is my 
two pieces. Every year we ask for the grace. That is our belief. 
You see, Santa Rosalia cannot do nothing herself. No. You ask 
her for the grace, see? Then she go ask God. She tella God what 
you want. God shake His head "yes!" you get it! But God 
shake His head "no!" you outa luck. That's a way we believe, 

Tma be the stuff Sunday, too,' concluded Mrs. Zito, blowing 
her nose exuberantly. Tma be dressed up like a jellybean. Hot 
dog!' She gazed upon the diminutive Mr. Zito. 'Papa better be 
careful. Maybe I get me a new jellybean.' At this both she and 
Papa Zito roared with laughter. 

Kenner's Saint Rosalia procession began in 1899, after a prom- 
ise made to the saint for her proficiency in stopping a plague of 
charbon, which was destroying the cattle and mules so essential 

Saint Rosalia s Day . 115 

to the livelihood of the Italian farmers of the vicinity. August 
Christina, president of the ' Fratellanza Italiana Society, ' which 
has charge of the event, was happy to give a brief history of the 

'You see,' he explained, 'it started back in Palermo years and 
years ago. I don't know how many years ago. It was in the 
olden times. Rosalia hid in a cave on a mountain, and maybe 
three, four hundred years after, they found her. I believe she 
was dead, but her bones was intact. She had always cured pes- 
tilences. That's why people here walk barefooted and all every 
year. She stopped the charbon in 1899. We have a real big 
crowd now; there were over seven thousand last year.' 

Walking barefooted or in stockings, carrying lighted candles 
- which are placed in the church at the end of the procession 
and donating money are the principal ways of repaying Saint 
Rosalia for favors granted. But Mr. Christina said: ' They prom- 
ise all sorts of things, and whatever they promise they do. You 
have to give 'em that. Sometimes they're hard to do, too.' 

Mrs. Genovese is one of Kenner's oldest residents. She took 
part in the first procession and in every one since. Mrs. Genovese 
was 'in the city, but she be back Sunday,' according to her 
daughter, a stout middle-aged woman, who swayed back and 
forth in her rocking chair as she talked. 

' You better talk to me,' she advised. ' My poor mamma could 
not do you no good. You no understand nothing she say. She 
is Italian. 

'Sure. I been in the prossession lots of times. My mamma 
never miss one since it start. See, we believe like that. American 
peoples is superstitious. They don't think like us, see? But this 
year, me, I don't even want to see the prossession. I justa lost 
my husband, and I can't stand nothin' like festival or nothin'. 
They ask for all sorts of things like jobs, cure illness. Looka 
Mrs. Verde. You know she is Joseph Santopadre's daughter. He 
live here, but she live in New Orleans. She was dying. Sure. 
The doctor chop her open, look inside, send her home to die. 
Other doctors come look at her, say she ought to be dead, but 
she ain't dead. Her papa promise Saint Rosalia a pair of dia- 
mond earrings she get well. This year she walk in the proces- 

n6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

sion. Sure. Is all wonderful to us, but I know American people 
is superstitious.' 

And Mrs. Verde was happy to talk about herself, her operation 
and her miraculous cure, though she revealed an unexpected 
angle to the last occurrence. 

'My father made the promise to Saint Rosalia,' she explained. 
'He has great faith in her, but' and here Mrs. Verde leaned 
forward and spoke almost in a whisper 'personally, just be- 
tween you and me, I think it was Mother Cabrini who cured me. 
I've always had much better results from her. In any case, it was 
wonderful, a real miracle. I was literally eaten away with can- 
cer. Practically no insides left at all. Of course, I shall walk in 
the procession Sunday, and I shall give thanks to Saint Rosalia 
for my cure through Mother Cabrini, my favorite, beautiful 

Despite torrential rains the morning and early afternoon of the 
1941 celebration, people filled the church in Kenner as the start- 
ing hour of 3 P.M. neared. Practically all of Kenner and neigh- 
boring settlements seemed to be present. Many people from New 
Orleans journey to the village to take part or to view the event. 
All day the highway is lined with cars, and many ride the ' Ken- 
ner Shakedown,' the name given the little sky-blue bus running 
between the two places each half-hour. 

At the entrance to the elaborately decorated church, men sold 
white silk badges for an offering and large pictures depicting 
Saint Rosalia appearing in a vision to the young man who first 
saw her. These last were marked definitely at ten cents each. 
Many women entered carrying large candles; soon the church 
aisles were crowded with them, waiting a turn to kneel before 
the statue, already on its base and trestle before the altar. 

Kenner's Saint Rosalia, slightly smaller than Harvey's, wears 
a green garment partly covered with a golden robe, a short lav- 
ender mantle, and a wreath of flowers. She carries the skull and 
the crucifix, and for this occasion her head was adorned with a 
bejeweled crown, and streamers hung from throat and wrists, to 
which much paper money had already been pinned. Concealed 
in flowers banked about the feet was a receptacle for coins. 

Upon reaching her the women made their offerings pinned 

Saint Rosalia's Day /// 

bills to the streamers or dropped coins then knelt in prayer. 
Each, before moving on, would lay a hand tenderly upon the 
statue's feet or robes. Then they stepped to the side where a 
nun, assisted by two young girls, was busy collecting more 
money and making notations in a book each time she received a 
contribution. In return, the young ladies were busy handing out 
small candles, which were lighted and placed on a stand at one 
side. Each of these, however, was allowed to burn only for two 
or three minutes, then extinguished and tossed into a box be- 
neath the stand, to make room for a new one. They are supposed 
to be relighted and burned on other days. The church resounded 
with the clinking of coins as the nun dropped the money into 
another box. 

As time passed the crowd became almost a milling mob, nearly 
all of them women. They lined every aisle, packed into the rear 
of the church, knelt two deep at the altar railing. They strug- 
gled to get close to the statue, to purchase candles from the nun. 
In the rear a baby bawled ceaselessly. There were the smells of 
garlic and cosmetics. Women reassured each other and them- 
selves regarding the weather. One said loudly: 'It won't rain 
on her when she gets out there. She'd stop a storm.' 

Women wept an old, old woman, in trailing black skirts, a 
black sunbonnet, with only one eye, from which tears flowed 
constantly a fat woman, holding a huge candle in one fist, an 
umbrella in the other. 

At three-twenty-five fireworks began to go off outside the 
church, and amidst the intonations the 'Fratellanza Italiana' 
came up the aisle, one commit teeman carrying the society's large 
green banner. All wore badges and emblems of some sort, mostly 
wide ribbons of red, green and white across their chests. A great 
heart made of red velvet and covered thickly with jewelry, in- 
cluding rings, bracelets, watches, chains, stickpins and earrings, 
was carried in. Standing on a chair, one of the committeemen 
unpinned the money from the streamers and fixed the latter be- 
hind the statue, then tied the heart about the image's neck so 
that it hung in front of the statue. 

All the lights in the church flared on and Father Higgin- 
botham appeared with his altar boys, led the way down the 

nS Gumbo Ya-Ya 

aisle, Saint Rosalia close behind, on the sturdy shoulders of her 
bearers. Outside, Clancy's Band burst into a spirited version of 
'The Courier.' Anthony Ochello, Grand Marshal, stepped to 
the front. 

And the rain had stopped. The skies were clearing, with even 
a patch of blue showing here and there. However, the streets 
and roads were still sloppy, and soon everyone was muddied to 
the knees. The crowd rapidly lengthened and thickened, until 
it stretched six country blocks. Biaccio Montalbano, well- 
known delicatessen man of New Orleans and, by his own admis- 
sion, the holiest man in the city (see 'Saint Joseph's Day,' page 
102.), was right up in front, walking close to the statue. He 
wore what was easily the most remarkable regalia in the pro- 
cession. He had three large holy pictures, depicting Saint 
Rosalia, strung one beneath the other on a red cord which was 
tied around his neck. The pictures hung from his chest almost 
to his knees, making his walking somewhat difficult. In each 
outspread arm he carried a large picture of the saint. From the 
pockets of his seersucker coat protruded crucifixes, one on each 
side, one having a chain of bright red beads so long it nearly 
dragged in the mud. Frequently Mr. Montalbano would induce 
one of the marchers to kiss one of the pictures of the saint, and 
then he was all grin and obviously in ecstasy. 

There was excitement at the first stop across the street from 
the church, after the pilgrims had turned. While Mr. Ochello 
was busy collecting money from those who came forward to pay 
off favors granted, a Mr. Viterella went into action, taking first 
place as star of the event. Arms up and gesturing wildly, he 
began to scream volubly in Italian. 'Viva Santa Rosalia!' he 
yelled. 'Viva Santa Rosalia!' There were answering cries from 
the crowd: 'Viva Santa Rosalia!' 

'Santa Rosalia Day is Santa Rosalia Day!' cried Mr. Viterella. 
Tma preach the whole way.' 

The crowd became indignant, cried, 'Is a disgrace!' 

'Viva Santa Rosalia!' yelled Mr. Viterella. Tma preach the 
whole way!' 

'He's drunk!' they shouted. 'Is a disgrace. Shut up!' 

'Cuta off my head!' invited Mr. Viterella. 'Come on, cuta off 





1 IS 

r * 




Mrs. Caparo has a fine altar to St. Joseph 

'Saints" eating by the St. Joseph's shrine of Mrs. Spann and Mrs. Schnaupper on 

St. Mary's Street 

An elaborate cake baked in honor of St. Joseph 



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Montalbano's altar to St. Joseph 
Courtesy of F. A. McDaniels, New Orleans 


St. Rosalia is carried in honor from church to church 

Mrs. Zito makes 'a beautiful speech' in honor of St. Rosalia 

Saint Rosalia s Day ng 

my head! I will not shut up. Is only one Santa Rosalia Day. 
Let them what want go to Harvey, them what want come here. 
Am I right or am I wrong?' 

It was evident Mr. Viterella objected to the custom of holding 
the two processions on different Sundays. ' Hold up your hands !' 
he cried. ' Am I right or am I wrong?' 

A few hands went up, but most of them obviously were not on 
his side. They booed. They jeered. They laughed at him. A 
large woman carrying a candle in a paper bag, its flame flickering 
just over the edges, wept audibly. 

'Cuta off my head!' screamed Mr. Viterella again. 

But now the procession was starting again, and he was com- 
paratively quiet for the rest of the way. The next stop was at 
Grand Marshal Ochello's house, where icewater in big galva- 
nized tubs was served in shiny cups. The Ochellos had promised 
this to Saint Rosalia. At last Hanson City was reached, and the 
next pause was at Mrs. Zito's grocery store. 

A wooden table was brought out and upon this was set the 
statue. Another table appeared and upon this was set Mrs. Zito 
- with some difficulty. She was excited, and she clutched a post 
while she delivered her ' beautiful spich,' contenting herself with 
only one hand for gestures. She spoke very loudly, accompanied 
by rigid salutes, and by wide and graceful sweeps of her arm. 
Sometimes she pounded her fist into the air. At other moments 
she clutched her bosom. She became more and more emotional, 
her voice cracking, and tears streaming from her eyes and down 
her plump cheeks. She cried ' to beat the band,' though no one 
else seemed to do so. Once a passing freight train drowned her 
'spich' entirely, but she paused not an instant. She was really 
dressed like a 'jellybean,' too, wearing tight patent-leather 
shoes, silk stockings, a starched dress of light blue cotton and 
two deep water waves in her coiffure. 

There were other stops at Cavallino's bar for pink lemon- 
ade, at Franzone's Grocery for root beer. At last they were back 
at Williamson Boulevard, and nearing the church, where a final 
stop was made before J. Christina's Grocery and Bar. 

Suddenly, a stout, white-haired man appeared, dragging a 
kitchen chair. He spread a sheet of newspaper on the chair, then 


Gumbo Ya-Ya 

he stood upon it. Word passed through the crowd that he was 
Mr. D'Amico, that he was from New Orleans and that he was 
about to make a speech. He did. It was very long, very loud, and 
in Italian. The crowd bore it patiently for a quarter-hour, then 
became restless, though some used the time to come forward, lay 
hands upon the statue and mumble prayers. Mr. D'Amico 
talked on. His face dripped perspiration, his voice hoarsened, 
but nothing diminished his implicit faith in his own oratorical 

At last President Christina made some remarks, implying that 
Mr. D'Amico might shorten his address. Then he told him to 
shut up. Finally he signaled the band, who immediately 
drowned Mr. D'Amico in music. President Christina gave an- 
other signal, and the men lifted Saint Rosalia and proceeded 
around the speaker; soon the procession was on its way. His face 
purple with rage, Mr. D'Amico dropped to the ground, dragged 
himself and his chair in the general direction of J. Christina's 
Grocery and Bar. 

Cannon and firecrackers went off again as Saint Rosalia was 
carried into the church, as many of the crowd who could fol- 
lowing. As Father Higginbotham began the Benediction, 
Clancy's Band played loudly in the yard outside. 

Afterward, there was a bazaar in the school basement next 
door. A large keno game was the favorite amusement, offering 
prizes in money and groceries. There were games for children 
grab bags, 'fish ponds.' Beer, soft drinks and sandwiches were 
sold. Later there would be a big dance at Clancy's Gymnasium, 
and at midnight, outside the gymnasium, there would be a great 
fireworks display, when, as in Harvey, a brilliant Santa Rosalia 
would be sent up in flaming firework magic. Then the Saint 
Rosalia celebration is over for another year. 

Chapter 7 

Nickel Gig, Nickel Saddle 


washwoman, owner of six cats and seven dogs, withdrew her 
fat, very black arms from the tub and shook off the snowy suds. 
Some of the little bubbles floated for a second, then puffed out in 
tiny explosions. Sarah began to sing: 

Four, 'leven and forty-four, 

Four, 'leven and forty-four. 

Goin' down this mornin' 

'Cause I got to go. 

But if I hit this gig, 

Ain't gonna bust these suds no more! 

''Course that song is about the Washwoman's Gig,' Sarah 
said. 'I know you done heard of that one. Ain't hardly no 
company taking it now. When them numbers hits, they hits. 
The Bag of Silver was cleaned out with that gig two years ago. 
Man, listen: 

Four, 'leven and forty-four, 
Four, 'leven and forty-four, 
Soapy water and dirty clo'es. 

122 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

I'm bustin' these suds 
Up to my elbows ! 

' Boy, all I'd have to do would be to hit that ole Washwoman's 
Gig, and I'd be sittin' on top of the world. Man! Man! Does 
I know more of that Lottery Song? Sure, I does. They got all 
kinds of words. Some is like this: 

Four, 'leven and forty-four, 

Four, 'leven and forty-four, 

My man, he's lazy. 

He ain't no good, 

But if I hit this gig, 

He's gonna dress up like he should! 

Four, 'leven and forty-four, 
Four, 'leven and forty-four, 
'Fore I lose my haid, 
'Cause my man's in that 
Yaller woman's bed! 

Four, 'leven and forty-four, 

Four, 'leven and forty-four, 

He walked out my door. 

Last night he said, Honey, 

I'm comin' back 

When you git your big black money ! 

Four, 'leven and forty-four, 

Four, 'leven and forty-four, 

Let me hit that gig. 

I'm needin' my man so bad 

I'm feelin' freakish; 

It's makin' me mean, lowdown and sad!' 

The Louisiana Weekly, Negro newspaper, reported on January 9, 
1937, regarding the famous Washwoman's Gig: 

Lightning might not strike twice in the same place, but the 
Washwoman's Gig, 4-11-44, has been going the rounds again 
this week. Its appearance in a downtown company two weeks 
ago financially embarrassed their stockholders. This week the 

Nickel Gig, Nickel Saddle 

gig made its appearance at the Pelican and many gloomy faces 
became happier looking and many a heart commenced to beat 
faster. The gig, it is said by followers of the pastime, makes 
its appearance about once a year and brings sudden deficit to 
bankrolls. Lottery vendors say there is so much money played 
on 4-11-44 that it would break the Bank of Monte Carlo to 
pay off when the gig makes its appearance. . . . 

'Lottery is my fate!' Martha White rolled her big eyes around 
in her dusky face, heaved her huge bosom in a mighty sigh. 
' You is lookin' straight at a woman what has been tryin' to hit 
them numbers steady for a long time. I hit 'em for a nickel every 
once in a while, but them quarter licks sure does come in slow, 
I'm tellin' you. Trouble is I ain't never had enough money to 
play a system I knows.' 

Her rocking chair creaked and wheezed. 'I likes to rock my 
weary soul,' she said, ' and Gawd knows it's weary. Sure I goes 
to church sometimes. Whenever the spirit moves me. But the 
spirit don't move me so much no more. Lottery gits in the way 
of my spirit.' 

On the wall above Martha's bed three numbers were scrawled 
in heavy black pencil, four, eleven and forty-four the famous 
Washwoman's Gig! 

'No, I don't play that no more,' she said. 'No vendor'll take 
it. But I done tried everything else. Even hoodoo. But no hoo- 
doo's ever gonna work with Lottery. It's dreams what counts. 
Hoodoo's all right when you wants somethin' or you wants to 
git rid of somebody, but you git rid of your Lottery vendor 
and where is you at? No, sir. All I needs to do is follow my 

'You know I didn't used to believe in dreams? But once I 
dreamed I fell off a barn, and that means you gonna get married. 
I sure laughed at that old woman like me what's done 
changed life two times and 'spectin' to change again pretty 
soon. But you know next day a crazy old preacher comes around 
askin' for my hand! I says, "Man, is you a damn fool?" and he 
leaves. Ever since then I believes in dreams and I plays in Lot- 
tery. See, when you dream 'bout a cabbage, play nine and thirty 
in a capital. One night I dreams I'm fallin' down a chimney. I 

124 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

just ups and plays me that Chimney Gig, five, fifty-six and three. 
Sure, I won. If you dreams of your husband, always play six, 
forty-one and fifty; if it is your sister, play five, fifteen and forty- 
five. That Blood Gig is really fine; any time you dreams of blood 
be sure to put your money on five, ten and forty. And if you 
dreams of Chinamans, you can't lose on the Chinaman's Gig, 
one, two and three. 

'When you dreams you sees an angel, there's the Angel Gig, 
fourteen, sixty-five and nineteen. You can't miss. When you 
dreams your nose is leakin', you get a gig on fourteen, one and 
six. They done got a war on, ain't they? Play that War Gig, 
ten, three and twenty-one. If I had me five dollars a week to play 
my system, I believes I could get rich playin' my dreams, but 
them Welfare peoples takes care of me, and they don't know I 
plays Lottery. That ain't in my budget.' She giggled. 

Til tell you somethin' bad. Don't never dream you is on the 
gallows. That's the worstest dream there is: But if you does, 
you play forty bottom. You can't lose. Watch out for mole 
dreams. Them is really somethin' ! If a girl dreams she's got a 
mole on her belly, it's a plain fact she's gonna have trouble all 
her life : 'Course she can always win Lottery on a nine, eighteen 
and sixty-nine gig. If you dreams you got a mole on your 
cheek, your numbers is sixteen, fifty-two and fifty-six. Names 
is good things to dream about. For Joseph play eighteen, 
thirty-five and sixty-two; for Francis, eleven, sixteen and twenty- 
four; Albert means you ought to play seventeen, two and six. 
I guess they got gigs for every name in the world. 

'The best dream of all is to dream about a woman's petticoat. 
That means you is really gonna win Lottery.' 

Walk up Rampart Street in New Orleans any time, morning, 
noon or night. Stop in any restaurant, any bar, and you'll find a 
little corner devoted to policy writing. These remain open until 
drawing time, then close, to reopen immediately afterward. 
Go over to the vendor and place a gig. A gig is three numbers. 
Play a nickel, a dime, a dollar, five dollars. To win, all three of 
your three numbers must come out in the next drawing. Want 
to insure your money? Put a saddle on it. Play a nickel gig and 
a nickel saddle. That saddle means if only two of your numbers 

Nickel Gig, Nickel Saddle - 125 

come out on the list, you win something forty cents for a 

Stop and get a shoeshine. In one corner of the shop will be a 
vendor sitting behind an unpainted wooden table. The boy who 
pops his polishing cloth over your toes talks readily, volubly. 

'Lottery shops? Yes, sir. There's three in this block. The 
Bag of Gold, the Clover Bloom and the Horseshoe Blue. 

' Sure, I'd rather play Lottery than gamble at a dice table. You 
can't use no system with dice, but you sure can with Lottery. 
Like on Monday you play a nickel gig and a nickel saddle. Then 
you don't play no more until the list comes out. Then you play 
again. Hell, you can't lose no more than seventy cents in a week. 
But you gotta stick to your numbers. They bound to come out 
sometimes. It's just like feedin' up a little ole shoat. You gotta 
fatten that pig up first. Then you kills him. 

'And you gotta play your hunches. You gotta play what 
comes to you. Dreams is a good way. Everybody plays their 
dreams. Sure I got me a dream book.' 

There are numbers for every dream, for every hunch. Every- 
one has his own personal superstition about how to win at Lot- 
tery. Ideas like these prevail: 

'I burns things, me. I burns candles, lamps and all kinds of 
powders. It sure do work too.' 

'I knows a woman who mixes up black pepper and cinnamon 
and sprinkles it all around her house. She won lots of money 
that way. She lives off Lottery.' 

4 1 always plays my numbers by what I thinks and dreams. I 
don't play on nothin' I can see, that's livin', or nothin' I can 
touch with my hand. My numbers is all from the spirit.' 

' The other night I dreams a tall and handsome brown man was 
makin' love to me. I played sixteen for his color, seven for his 
height and forty-two for the age he looked about to be. All 
three of them numbers come out.' 

'I plays Lottery like you goes to your office. It's my whole 
life, man. I wouldn't give it up for nothin'. If I had to choose 
between work and Lottery, I sure would take Lottery, 'cause I 
feels I can make money and still have all my time to myself.' 

'Lottery ain't no sin. I feels I is justified in playin' it, 'cause 

126 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

then I gits what I wants without havin' to steal. So, you see, it 
ain't no sin.' 

'I can only git my numbers when I is in my port.' 

And by no means do the Lottery vendors confine themselves to 
Rampart Street, though they may be thickest there. They are 
literally everywhere, uptown, downtown, in every neighbor- 

New Orleans has always been a gambling town. Rooms for 
gaming were opened in the very first taverns and grog houses. 
With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the subsequent opening 
of the Mississippi River to commerce, came swarms of profes- 
sional gamblers and adventurers of all kinds. During the Creole 
era, six houses of chance were licensed by the Legislature at 
five thousand dollars a year each, four-fifths of the money to go 
to the Charity Hospital, one-fifth to the College of Orleans. 
These houses were small and only one roulette wheel or faro 
game was allowed to each. 

The first gaming 'palace' was opened by John Davis, known 
as the father of gambling throughout the United States and one 
of the most colorful figures in New Orleans 's early history. 
Owner of the Orleans Ballroom, he operated a magnificent estab- 
lishment next door, containing the most elegant furnishings, the 
most costly and luxurious appointments, offering the finest 
service of foods and liquors and every game of chance imaginable. 

Others followed rapidly, each vying with the others in ele- 
gance, in inducements for patronage. Many served tempting 
buffet suppers; one even offered an elaborate dinner of many 
courses each Sunday evening, served on plates of solid silver, all 
the food without charge. Evening clothes were compulsory in 
places so pretentious. 

It is doubtful that any American city ever offered more reckless 
gambling than that which took place in New Orleans during 
this period; twenty-five thousand dollars would change hands at 
a single roll of the dice. Many wealthy men squandered hun- 
dreds of thousands of dollars a year in these establishments. 
Policy, Faro, Roulette, Craps, Poker and other card games were 
all popular. Davis's house boasted special rooms for Brag, 
Ecarte and Boston. Professional gamblers from the steamboats 

Nickel Gig, Nickel Saddle 727 

plowing the dark waters of the Mississippi met here nightly, to 
win and lose, to fleece the nai've, to quarrel and duel, occasion- 
ally to kill. 

Craps, having appeared early in the city's history, is believed 
to have been brought to the city by Louis Philippe and his broth- 
ers, the Duke de Montpensier and the Count de Beaujolais, when 
they were guests of Bernard de Marigny, head of a wealthy and 
distinguished Louisiana family, in 1798. De Marigny, whose 
personal passion was gambling of any sort, introduced the game 
to the fashionables of the city. And in later years, when he 
divided his princely estate, in what was then the outskirts of the 
city, into blocks and squares, he named one street the Rue de 
Craps, perhaps with irony, for it is reported that he was ex- 
tremely unlucky at the game. But after a decade, when a Meth- 
odist Church was built on the Rue de Craps and became known as 
the Craps Methodist Church, it was thought best that the street 
become Burgundy Street, which it remains until today. 

Louis Philippe maintained his interest in de Marigny and the 
game of Craps for years. One year when a certain Doctor Cenas 
and his gay, attractive wife were visiting in Paris, they were 
presented at Court. As the Cenases entered the ballroom and the 
announcer called out, 'Doctor et Madame Auguste Cenas de la 
Nouwlle Orleans,' the royal countenance beamed and His Majesty 
demanded to know at once if, since they were from Nouvelle Or- 
leans, they might be acquainted with the well-known de Ma- 
rigny. And upon reassurance that they were, Louis Philippe gave 
them an audience which lasted for hours and reportedly con- 
sisted almost entirely of a discussion of the New Orleans gambler 
and the game known as Craps. 

Today in the colored sections of the city there are always cir- 
cles of men 'rollin' the bones,' playing Indian dice, which is any 
game of Craps unsupervised by a syndicate and without a player 
for the 'house.' Any Negro game of Craps will echo with such 
comments as these: 

'I'm shootin' a dime, Lightie. I got a man!' 

Lightie replies with a song: 

Look down, rider, spot me in the dark, 

When I calls these dice, break these niggers' hearts. 

iz8 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Roll out, seven, stand back, craps, 

If I make this pass, I'll be standin' pat. 

Fingers pop. 'When I get home let the story be told. Come 
on, baby. Do it like Sally did it in Memphis. When the train 
came she wasn't there. Let me roll a long time, 'cause I'm fresh 
out of air.' 

'Hit an eight. Flat on your back and do a flip-flap. Eight, 
where is you?' 

'Jump a rump and hop till I tell you to stop.' 

Lightie's nasal tenor is loose again: 

Don't have to ride no boxcar, 
'Cause I ain't goin' that far, 
Don't have to shed no tears, 
'Cause I ain't got no years, 
Don't have to fuss and fight, 
'Cause I got all night, 
To win this mo-neeeeeeey ! 

'You better get on that train, boy!' 
'Boxcars don't pull that freight.' 
'Craps two. They're comin' up again.' 
'Can't you see them dice is cuttin'?' 

Last night I went to a game of Craps, 
Thinkin' I'd win some money perhaps, 
I thought them coons would have the fits, 
'So I proudly said, Til shoot six bits! ' 

'Come seven,' I said. The dice rolled three. 

I said, 'Gentlemen, youse has done cleaned me.' 

'Clean already!' cried Liver-Lip Jim, 

'Hell, you wasn't so smart when you first come in.' 

The dice crack against the pavement again. 
'My nutmeg done lost its charm, damn it.' 
'Six and eight, while you wait.' 
'Callin' five, shine your line.' 
'Damn them snake eyes!' 

Nickel Gig, Nickel Saddle - 129 

'Shoot all. I got to get it while it's hot.' 

'Come on, Red, swing out this lick.' 

'Dime on any crap.' 

'Little Joe, everywhere I go.' 

'Roll out, seven!' 

Another song: 

My baby needs a new pair of shoes; come along, you seven, 
She can't get 'em if I lose; come along, you seven. 
Roll them bones, roll 'em on a square, roll 'em on a sidewalk, 
Street and everywhere; we'll roll 'em in the mornin', Joe. 

Roll them in the night, 

We'll roll them bones the whole day long, 

When the cops are out of sight, 

We will roll them bones. 

'Shake, baby, shake! You don't shake you don't get no jelly- 

'Roll, baby, roll. You don't get my gold.' 

'Come, seven!' 

And the dice roll. Uptown, downtown, in the great gambling- 
houses flourishing in the parishes just above and below the city, 
the ivory cubes leave tense fists to go flying and tumbling, win- 
ning and losing nickels, dimes, dollars, thousands, for the ad- 
dicts of this game of Craps. 

Every number on the dice has at least one name. The best 
known are: x Snake Eyes, 3 Craps, 4 Little Joe, 
5 Fever, 6 Big Six, 7 Natural, 8 Ada from Decatur, 
9 Nina, 10 Big Dick, n Natural, 12. Boxcars. 

All over New Orleans are opportunities for every sort of gam- 
bling. Behind barrooms and beer parlors, restaurants and pool- 
rooms, races are 'booked.' This is almost as commonplace as 
Lottery. Numerous card games are always in progress in upper 
rooms. Yet all this is at least semi-surreptitious. But in the 
miniature Monte Carlos in Jefferson and St. Bernard Parishes 
there is little or no attempt at concealment. In these places, 
some of them almost modern counterparts of the luxurious estab- 
lishments of John Da vis's era in size and magnificence, the lights 
burn brightly every night, from six in the evening until late. 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Recently one of them began opening for afternoon * matinees' for 

Laborers and bankers, scrubwomen and society women, clerks, 
doctors, professional gamblers all strata of society are repre- 
sented, people with nickels and people with dollars and people 
with fortunes to risk. Until long past midnight it is almost im- 
possible to squeeze in at one of the tables where the roulette 
wheels are spinning or the dice rolling. All sorts of games are 
popular at those clubs, from nickel slot machines and pinball 
machines to dice games where thousands of dollars change hands 
at a throw of the little ivory cubes. From time to time a 're- 
form' State Government closes these places; but they always 

At least in the sheer number of persons who play it, Keno is 
the most popular game of all. A form of Lotto, seven hundred 
persons can play at a time. Cards cost five cents each and it is 
usual to play several cards at one time. Players thrill as the caller 
shouts the numbers and they flash in red on immense tabulating 
boards. Several times each night there are ' gold rolls,' at which 
time the winner usually receives about seventy dollars, occa- 
sionally more. An entire evening may be spent playing Keno at 
a very small cost. 

Bingo parties are popular in New Orleans and its vicinity. 
Everyone gives them, from churches and political organizations 
to people raising their rent. And Bingo is another form of Keno. 

But Lottery boasts even more addicts than does Keno. For 
years Lottery has been an integral part of New Orleans and Lou- 
isiana life. 

The Louisiana Lottery Company was authorized to operate by 
Legislature in 1868 when it promised to pay $40,000 a year to- 
ward the upkeep of the Charity Hospital in New Orleans. The 
first drawing offered a Grand Prize of $3700 on a twenty-five-cent 
ticket. This was increased the following year to a fifty-cent 
ticket and a $7500 Grand Prize. At last it rose to such heights 
that a capital Grand Prize of $600,000 was being offered twice a 
year with a forty-dollar ticket. No one person ever won this 
huge prize in its entirety, but a New Orleans barber once held a 
ticket for twenty dollars and was paid his $300,000 without 

Nickel Gig, Nickel Saddle 

The original charter of the Louisiana Lottery Company was 
for twenty-five years. This was canceled in 1879, but a new one > 
including even greater privileges, was granted the following year. 

The accompanying advertisement from The Mascot of Decem- 
ber 2., 1882., is typical: 

LA. S. L. 

This is the only lottery in any State ever voted on and 
Endorsed by the People 



Will Give, at New Orleans, La., on 
Tuesday, December 19, 1882., 

A Promenade Concert, 
During which will take place, the 

Class M. 

Under the immediate supervision and management of 

Gen. G. T. Beauregard of Louisiana and 

Gen. Jubal A. Early, of Virginia 




One Capital Prize $100,000 

One Capital Prize 50,000 

One Capital Prize 2.0,000 

11,2.79 Prizes, all Amounting to 


The Drawing will Positively commence at Eleven 

o'clock a.m., on the morning of 




100,000 TICKETS AT $10 EACH. 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

In 1898 the company was able to offer the State $1,2.50,000 for 
a renewal. But by now Lottery was highly unpopular as having 
a pernicious effect on the poor and "as possessing tremendous 
political power, which was being misused. Lottery became 
almost the sole issue of the gubernatorial campaign that year. 

In 1895 tne federal statute prohibiting interstate transport of 
the tickets was passed. The company promptly moved to Hon- 
duras. There it remained until 1907, when it was forced out of 
business by federal prosecution of its American agents at home. 

But this wasn't the end of Lottery in New Orleans. It seems to 
have been only the beginning. 

There are scores of Lottery shops today, hundreds of vendors, 
some who walk the streets, have a regular route, regular clients. 

Lottery vendors, apparently, do not look upon their profession 
as lacking in respectability. 

'Anything you do ought to be made respectable,' argued one 
of them. ' You know some people can make any job look re- 
spectable; and others would make the same job look just oppo- 
site. It's all the way you see life. Me? I make about five dollars 
a day. Some of the fellows make as much as eight.' 

In a certain section of New Orleans the average family income 
is less than fifty dollars a month. Yet everybody plays Lottery. 
Somehow they manage to gamble at least five cents a day. They 
live with Lottery. They live for Lottery. 

' You got to think about Lottery all the time,' they'll tell you. 
' You got to keep the numbers in your mind and nothing else. 
That's the secret of it. You must think of nothing but numbers 
and Lottery.' 

And that's what they do. They think of nothing but numbers 
and Lottery. They dream of numbers and Lottery at night. 
Everything that happens has some bearing on what gigs they 
pick for their nickels. Every dream has its translation into num- 
bers to be bet on Lottery. And by no means is this passion con- 
fined to Negroes. Hundreds of white people make it an insepa- 
rable part of their daily lives. They seem to find in the game an 
escape, an almost glamorous rainbow trail with hope and a pot 
of gold always ahead. And sometimes they win. Many families 
seem to supplement their incomes constantly by scrupulous atten- 
tion to every detail of the art of playing Lottery. 

Nickel Gig, Nickel Saddle 

The Pelican Lottery Company is probably the best known and 
the most prosperous in the Negro section. A great believer in 
advertising, this company uses handbills, and even sound trucks. 
In 1937, when the Washwoman's Gig almost broke the Pelican, 
the manager was astute enough to capitalize on his losses by 
having sound trucks blast the news from one end of New Orleans 
to the other about how the Pelican paid off. He gives away free 
chickens, turkeys and groceries to stimulate attendance at draw- 

There are about sixty persons employed by the Pelican. All 
the inside workers are Negroes, and the vendors are white or 
black according to what neighborhood they work. Drawings 
are held three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 
and many white people mingle with the colored at these affairs. 

Another well-known policy establishment is on the edge of 
what was once New Orleans 's notorious Story ville, now re- 
placed by a Federal Housing Project. Here business starts early 
in the morning. One of the first clients is a well-dressed young 
Negro, who keeps walking in and out of the shop, seeming un- 
able to make up his mind what to play. 

'That's his system,' the vendor explained. This particular 
vendor is dignified and soft-spoken, the scion of a once distin- 
guished Creole family. ' He likes to watch what the others are 
playing. He's a college student. Frequently he wins, though 
not as often as those fool niggers who play their dreams and all 
sorts of crazy hunches. On Lincoln's Birthday one of them 
played a hunch and won thirty-six dollars. The night before he 
had dreamed he was a slave and was freed at the time all the 
others were. That was in 1863, so he placed his money on two, 
twelve, eighteen and sixty-three. Do you know, every one of 
those numbers came in!' 

As the morning wore on, the shop crowded with both black 
and white customers. A favorite number seemed to be fifty-nine. 
This was one popular with the Creoles in the old days' when open 
Lottery flourished. A nurse from Charity Hospital came in to 
collect yesterday's winnings. The night before she had been 
playing Keno at one of the big gambling-houses in Jefferson 
Parish, and had missed three times on twenty-one. A man sit- 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

ting next to her had advised her to keep playing it, that she 
couldn't miss. So she had played it on Lottery and it had headed 
the list. The vendor said this young lady played all her hunches 
and seldom lost. 

A white man grumbled: 'My wife sends me here every day to 
play numbers, and do I get bawled out if they don't hit ! She gets 
the damnedest ideas. Day before yesterday I brought home some 
lemons and there turned out to be only eleven in the bag instead 
of the dozen I had paid for. 

'Right away she starts hollering, "Go back and get that 
lemon, you dumb ox!" Then she says, "Wait a minute!" And 
I knew what was coming. "Go play eleven, first station," she 

'Well, of course twelve came in yesterday. Did I catch hell! 
She said if I had brought home that other lemon she would have 
played twelve. She chinned about it all night long. And she 
wouldn't have done that at all. She would have played some 
other fool hunch. 

'Know what I'm playing today? Six, twelve and twenty- 
four, and you wouldn't guess why in a million years. It hap- 
pens the washerwoman is going to have a baby, and last night 
my wife dreamed it would be twins and that each twin would 
have six toes on each foot. Can you beat that one? She decided 
that the babies would probably have two feet apiece, so she mul- 
tiplied the toes by two and by four. God help me if they don't 
all come out! I'll bet that woman ain't going to have but one 
baby with five toes on each foot. Maybe she ain't going to have 
a baby at all. How the hell do I know?' 

Over one thousand persons are employed in this business, as 
clerks, callers, bookkeepers and vendors, all but the latter receiv- 
ing a straight salary of $^.50 a day, the vendor being paid a com- 
mission on collections. 

Many persons attend the drawings, believing it better to be 
there, and frequently the companies encourage this as good ad- 
vertising, often giving additional prizes of groceries, radios and 
articles of furniture to the holders of the winning tickets for 
being present at the drawings. 

The caller, standing on a platform, places seventy-two num- 

Nickel Gig, Nickel Saddle 

bers in the wheel, then selects someone from the audience and 
blindfolds him. When the wheel is spun, this selected drawer 
shoves in his hand and picks one of the little wooden balls. The 
number on the ball is then loudly announced by the caller. This 
is done twelve consecutive times. These numbers are then 
stamped on a vendor's list, and copies of this list are distributed 
by the vendors to everyone who played in this particular draw- 
ing. To have won, your numbers must, of course, appear on 
this list. 

There are innumerable ways of playing Lottery. If your nickel 
gig wins all three numbers appearing on the vendor's list - 
you receive nine dollars. If it was saddled, you win a dollar, 
twenty-five cents more. If saddled and only two numbers ap- 
peared, you'll get forty cents. Play your nickel on a number for 
capital position and if it shows in the first three stations, five 
dollars is yours. Or you may play one number to appear any- 
where on the list and the nickel might earn two dollars and 
fifty cents. 

Negro tenements are favorite places for Lottery vendors to set 
up business. Here in dingy rooms, under green-shaded drop 
lights, they write numbers and accept gigs. Inside vendors are 
never permitted to work outside. Most of the tenement vendors 
are white and they are careful to treat their clients with every 
courtesy. Walls are decorated with the numbers of popular gigs, 
also with numbers that coincide with dreams, many of them 
invented by the vendors themselves. They can always supply a 
gig on any dream, idea or hunch a customer may have. A pro- 
spective customer never gets away. That different vendors will 
undoubtedly supply entirely different numbers for the same 
dream, or even that the same vendor might do this on different 
days, is nobody's business but the vendor's. The important 
thing is that the customer is always satisfied. 'Everybody has a 
right to a mind of his own,' says Beulah Howard, a regular cus- 
tomer. ' If you see diff'runt numbers in your brain than some- 
body else does, that ain't nothin'. You gotta play what's in 
your head.' 

When a player gets the blues about his Lottery, especially 
when his numbers ' ain't runnin' right,' he always blames his bad 

1)6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

luck on something. Often it's his love life. He'll sing: 

It's a funny thing them numbers ain't treatin' me right, 
It's a funny thing them numbers ain't treatin' me right, 
Maybe some black nigger's with my old lady tonight. 

When a man's under your bed in the fall, 
.1 say when a man's under your bed in the fall, 
You just don't have no luck a tall. 

Ain't no foolin' with Lottery, no indeed, 

No need to fool with Lottery, no indeed, 

'Cause you'll never git the money you need, 

Not if a man's sneakin' under your house in the fall. 

Dreams, hunches, automobile licenses, all are played in these 
establishments and with the street vendors. Of particular im- 
portance is the 'Lawd,' many people calling on Him to 'bring 
their numbers home,' and for protection, should it be suspected 
that someone 'has done rubbed their pants pockets with some 
devil stuff.' Preachers are seldom asked for help with Lottery, 
but spiritualist 'mothers' do a heavy business in this direction, 
often receiving a cut in the winnings. ' Sometimes it takes pow- 
ders and stuff to bring them numbers 'round,' is the common 
opinion. But the preachers have no objections to their flock 
playing Lottery. They usually profit from it. Many gamblers are 
superstitious about leaving the church out of their winnings. 
Anyway, the preachers couldn't stop them. 

4 Why does Negroes play Lottery?' muses Willie Jones, who is 
a philosopher as well as a gambler. ' 'Cause they dreams so 
much. You see, Lottery is dreamin* and dreamin' is Lottery. 
That's the truth. Ain't no cause and ain't no effect unless you 
dreams in Lottery, is there? I always say find the cause and 
you'll find the effect, and the cause of cullud peoples playin' 
Lottery is dreamin'. W T e is just natural dreamers 'cause we eats 
too much. So eatin' is the cause, and the effects is dreamin' and 
Lottery. Take me. All I got to do to dream is just eat four or 
five bananas before I goes to bed. That sure do make me dream! 
Then next day I makes me a gig and wins nine dollars. That's 
plenty of money, 'specially for a nickel. 

Nickel Gig, Nickel Saddle 

' Every now and then the Lawd pussonally shows me numbers. 
The Lawd took me out of sin, you know, and put me in the land 
of the religious. And when the Lawd shows me numbers I is 
bound to win. How does I know? I reckon the Lawd 'tends to 
take care of Willie Jones. 

'I eats my bananas, goes to sleep, then I sees the Lawd. He 
stands right smack before me like a natural man. He points one 
finger at me. I says, "One." He points two fingers. I says, 
"Two." Then He raises His whole hand. The Lawd done told 
me to play one, two and five. I is filled with joy straight from 
the Lawd. "Hallelujah!" I cries. My crazy wife wakes up and 
yells: "Look at that nigger! Just look at that man! That damn 
fool!" Then I reaches over and busts her one in the mout'. That 
shuts her up for a while. 

' Let me tell you something brother. I got a strong 'preciation 
of the Lawd. You is lookin' at a man what's been shot five times 
by a woman. I told the Lawd if He'd let me live, I'd never do 
another wrong. That's why I married me a Christian woman. 
Then I joined the Baptist Church. Went straight from sinner- 
man to board member to deacon to head deacon. That's what I is 
now, head deacon. 

'No, indeed! Lottery ain't no sin, Lottery is just dreams. 
Cullud people got to gamble cheap and all of 'em plays Lottery. 
Does they win? Sometimes they does. And, man, when a cullud 
man wins Lottery it's worser than a fat woman gittin' religion. 
They just jumps up and down and hollers.' 

Willie looked very wise for a second. ' 'Course you knows who 
them big shots is what really makes money out of that game,' he 
said. 'Man, one of 'em has a big mansion down in Gentilly. 
It's like a king's palace or somethin'. 

' Guess you heard 'bout the time this big shot went to the bank 
with so many sacks of money the cashier's eyes was poppin' out 
his head. ' ' What you got there?' ' that cashier asked. You know 
what that Lottery King done told him? He said, "Nigger 
dreams." That might sound funny, but it was the truth. That's 
all it was. Just nigger dreams.' 

Chapter 8 

The Creoles 


for everything. For themselves they even did better than that. 
Every Creole was sorti de la cuisse de Jupiter a piece from the 
thigh of Jupiter; and privately each one considered himself a 
slice of deity of no mean proportions. That was not all. They 
were creme de la crime; and if a Creole family was not exactly 
de la fine fleur des pois literally, not of the most select blooms 
of the sweet pea blossom it was certainly one of les bonnes 
families. And woe to the gens du commun the common people 
ambitious enough or foolish enough to attempt to enter 
Olympus ! The gates were closed. It has been said that the Low- 
ells spoke only to the Cabots and the Cabots spoke only to God, 
but it is fairly safe to say that in the very early Creole era both 
families would have been snubbed by the Creoles of New 

The French founders of Louisiana arrived in the last year of the 
seventeenth century and by 1765, when Spain took possession, 
French culture was so entrenched that the appointment of the 
Spanish governor caused an insurrection that cost many lives. 
But the Spanish had come to stay, and marriage and interbreed- 

The Creoles 139 

ing were inevitable. It was even the newcomers who gave the 
Creoles their name. Criollo, eventually corrupted to Criado, was 
the Spanish name for children born in the colonies. Adopting 
this, the French speedily changed it to Creole. 

In 1803 Louisiana passed back to France, but the joy of reunion 
with the mother country was short-lived. Napoleon, conquering 
Europe and in need of cash, quickly sold the territory to the 
United States. There were protests from the Creoles, but no 
uprisings this time. They watched the changing of the flags 
fluttering above the Place d'Armes with heavy hearts, but 
quietly, solemnly. Already the determination to live within 
themselves must have been engendering in their minds. These 
Americans might come to New Orleans, but never would they 
enter its inner circles. They would always remain foreigners. 
The impregnable barriers went up. The bitter struggle against 
Americanization had begun. 

Creoles were predominantly French, though much Spanish 
blood had been absorbed. Some German and Irish settlers also 
intermarried in the early days, but all the national characteris- 
tics of these peoples seem to have completely vanished. They 
became 'so Frenchified,' says Gayarre, 'that they appear to be 
of Gallic parentage.' German family names were, in many 
instances, literally translated; Zweig, for instance, became 
La Branche. An Irish family of O'Briens pronounced their name 
Obreeong ! 

All Creole children received a French education. Often the 
boys were sent to Paris, and the girls were instructed in local 
convents guided by French nuns. French thought, literature and 
art impregnated them so deeply that they existed in a completely 
French culture, their ideas and manners as much imported as 
their household furnishings, wines, books, clothes and pictures. 

No true Creole ever had colored blood. This erroneous belief, 
still common among Americans in other sections of the country, 
is probably due to the Creoles' own habit of calling their 
slaves 'Creole slaves' and often simply 'Creoles.' Too, there 
are proud light-colored families in New Orleans today who 
are known as 'Creoles' among themselves. But Creoles were 
always pure white. Any trace of cafe au lait in a family was 
reason for complete ostracism. 

/ 4 o Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Among themselves Creoles divided into various castes or 
strata, both socially and financially, though no one seems ever 
to have agreed as to the category in which his family belonged. 
There were Creoles, Chacks, Chacas, Catchoupines, Chacalatas, 
Bambaras and Bitacaux. The term 'Chacalata,' for instance, 
indicated much the same thing as does * Hoosier' or ' countrified'; 
'Bambaras' (untidiness) perhaps hinted at uncleanliness. 
'Cachumas' were those whose ancestors had acquired a strain of 
cafe noir, and even today in the Barataria section this term is 
sometimes heard. 

Everything they used or possessed received, like their slaves, 
the Creole appellation: their cooking, horses, chickens, vege- 
tables and axe -handles. To become acclimated was to be 

They were seven to one in the city in 1803 , three to one in 1812., 
only two to one by 1830. But between 1812. and the Civil War 
they were wealthiest and their influence most dominant. 

And this was not entirely confined to New Orleans. Many of 
the plantations lining both sides of the Mississippi River be- 
longed to them. Far out in western Louisiana, in the land of the 
Attacapan Indians and the Cajuns, they founded a little town 
then known as Petit Paris. Here French noblemen, refugees from 
the Revolution and 'Madame Guillotine,' tried to recreate the 
courtly days just past, and Petit Paris was soon a tiny Versailles, 
the residence of such as Le Baron du Cloyal, Le Chevalier Louis 
de Blanc and Le Comte Louis de la Houssaye. Later Petit Paris 
became St. Martin ville. 

In New Orleans the Creoles were resentful and contemptuous 
of the American strangers, even considered them wicked. 'They 
do not even attach importance to the Commandment of honoring 
their fathers and mothers,' wrote one shocked Creole lady. ' The 
sons marry to please themselves, and even the daughters do not 
ask their parents' permission!' For the Creole boy or girl who 
married one of these 'foreigners' there was no forgiveness; they 
had stepped beyond the pale. 

The Creoles refused to speak English. The Americans refused 
to speak French. Creole boys ran behind Americans in the 
streets singing this taunting song: 

The Creoles 141 

'Mericain coquin 'Merican rogues 

Bille en naquin Dressed in nankeen 

Voleur di pain Stole loaves of bread 

Che% Miche D' Again! From Mr. D'Aquin! 

Monsieur D'Aquin was a well-known baker in the Vieux 

Americans reacted by disliking the Creoles with equal enthu- 
siasm. One wrote home to New England, 'Smiles and bows are 
abundant and cheap and in these they are profuse and liberal, but 
there is little sterling, honest friendship in existence; and exhibi- 
tion, outward show and pretensions are the ruling passions!' 

Gradually New Orleans became not one city but two, Canal 
Street splitting them apart, dividing the old Creole city from the 
'uptown' section, where the Americans were rapidly settling. 
To cross Canal Street in either direction was to enter another 
world.' Even today these differences are noticeable. 

Among themselves, Creoles were warm, affectionate, ex- 
tremely loyal. Lafamille was the very core of their life, and, like 
the humbler Cajuns, this extended to the utmost limits of rela- 
tionship. Cable wrote: 'One thing I never knew a Creole to do; 
he will not utterly go back on the ties of blood, no matter what 
sort of knots those ties may be. For one reason he is ashamed of 
his or his father's sins; for another he will tell you he is all 
heart. ' 

Creole gentlemen could only enter certain professions and oc- 
cupations. Most of them were planters, bankers, brokers in rice, 
sugar or cotton, occasionally clerks in establishments of these 
types. Sometimes they ventured into politics. They were barred 
from entering trade or working in a store or shop. Because of 
these rigid limitations in their caste system, ambition was often 
stunted, opportunity ignored. No Creole could do anything that 
would cause him to work with his hands or to remove his coat. 
A gentleman never appeared in public without coat, cravat and 

Most family heads had a few faineants loafers in their 
homes who could not or would not work. These relatives 
or old friends must be supported, and usually without complaint. 
Occasionally a male faineant might be jokingly accused of having 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

les cotes en long vertical ribs; this was the extent of the criti- 
cism. Of course there was no way in which any Creole woman 
could earn money, so spinster tantes aunts and cousines must 
be 'carried on.' Many of these more than earned their mainte- 
nance, however, in helping to raise the children. Aged relatives 
and orphans could never be placed in an institution. No Creole 
was ever guilty of such a thought. 

Within the Creole world the father was absolute head of his 
household and his word was final in all matters. Merely to upset 
any of his convictions required tremendous skill and subtlety on 
the part of his wife, combined with every tante and cousine in 
la famille. But this Creole father was always generous, devoted, 
kind to a fault, unless some member of his household trans- 
gressed one of the rules set down to keep the family free of scan- 
dale; then his wrath was terrible, sometimes without forgive- 
ness; otherwise he would lavish all he possessed or could earn 
on his numerous children and perhaps a half-dozen faineants. 

The Creole mother, though she might have been a beauty in 
her day, was nearly always of generous proportions. Creole 
ladies did not diet, and meals were always sumptuous. She was 
an excellent housekeeper economical, hospitable and a de- 
voted mother. Usually she possessed an equal number of social 
assets, was a skilled dancer, a charming conversationalist, a per- 
fect hostess, and accomplished in all the graces and manners of 
her world. Deeply religious, she prodded her men toward the 
Church and saw that the children were trained in all its teach- 
ings. She was loyal to her husband until death. Even if she 
knew he maintained a beautiful quadroon in a separate establish- 
ment, no word of the matter ever passed her lips. At her hus- 
band's death she invariably manifested great grief, rarely remar- 
ried, and always observed strictest mourning in dress and deport- 
ment for the required period of several years. 

Many widowers remarried, however. It was considered that 
the children should have a mother and frequently a match was 
arranged for the man, often to his deceased mate's sister, should 
there be one unmarried. Thus many a Creole spinster was saved 
from an in her day ignominious role in life by her sister's 

The Creoles 143 

Early travelers through Louisiana wrote of the Mississippi 
River water and its marvelous effect on the fecundity of the Cre- 
ole woman. Ten or more children was the average for any fam- 
ily, and the father's respect for the mother increased with each 
additional birth. There was once a prominent Creole judge who, 
with true Creole values of courtliness, paid his wife a formal call 
each time she bore him a child, which was practically every 
year. A few hours after the birth he would don his most formal 
attire, including tall silk hat, long cape and cane, step into her 
bedchamber, remove his hat with a sweeping bow, and present 
her with a bouquet and his congratulations. 

From the lips of the Creole mother sprang many of the prov- 
erbs which have become famous : Ta finesse est cousue de fil blanc 
Your shrewdness is sewed with white thread; Chacun sait ce qui 
bouille dans se chaudure Each one knows what boils in his own 
pot (in the close-knit Creole society everyone else knew as 
well!); On lave son linge sal en jamille Wash your dirty clothes 
in your own family; Dans le pays des aveugles, les borgnes sont rots 
In the country of the blind the nearsighted are kings; Elle joue a la 
chandelle She plays the candle (applied to the mother of a girl 
who would not go to bed until the girl's beaux went home); and 
C est la fee Carabos literally, She is the fairy Carabos (meaning 
an ugly, quarrelsome woman). 

Among its slaves every Creole family had a Negress as nurse 
for the young children. The importance of Mammy in the house- 
hold and the extent of her influence over her young charges can 
scarcely be overestimated. Through all her life she shared the 
children's affection with the parents. When Mammy grew old, 
she was retired, the family supporting her to the end of her days. 
At her death the now adult people she had raised, often several 
generations, grieved deeply. 

Years after her passing, a Creole woman wrote of her nurse : 

4 Her devotion was so great she would make any sacrifice for 
us; her money was our money; all she had was for her dear chil- 
dren. In sickness she would spend sleepless nights watching over 
us while our parents slept. She would come into our rooms dur- 
ing the night to see that we were properly covered. When we 
grew older and began to go out at night to balls or to the the- 


Gumbo Ya-Ya 

ater, Mammy sat up by the downstairs fire and awaited our re- 
turn, anxious to hear the details of the party, to give us a bite to 
eat and to tuck us into bed. 

'But Mammy could be stern and she would not hesitate to 
punish us if we needed it. When we were small Mammy had a 
terrible time on Saturday nights. When we saw her carrying in 
the tub of warm water, the soap and washrag, there was a battle 
royal, but Mammy always won. 

'The greatest treat of all was to awaken every morning to 
Mammy's words, " Alb vous cafe," and see her standing beside 
your bed, her round black face broken with a white smile, her 
tignon neatly tied about her head and pushed high with a comb 
worn underneath, her spotless apron stiff with starch, a tray in 
her hands on which was piping-hot drip coffee, ground and 
roasted at home. 

' Mammy was really the boss of the house, was consulted on all 
subjects. Father and Mother often went to her for advice and her 
judgment was always wise and sound. 

' Her death plunged us deeply into grief. She had been in the 
family for sixty years. Her funeral was most dignified, my 
father and uncles serving as pallbearers; and she was laid to rest 
in the family tomb in old St. Louis Cemetery No. i. I remember 
wearing mourning for months and refusing to go to any place of 
amusement. The mammies of that era should have a monument 
raised to their memories, for their lives were filled with devotion 
and self-sacrifice for their white families.' 

Mammy invariably spoke Creole, the soft patois Negroes de- 
veloped from their attempts to speak French and which, like 
everything else the Creoles used, received their name, though the 
Anglo-Saxon element in the city referred to the dialect as 
' Gombo.' This tongue, really far more expressive and beautiful 
to the ear than a mere dialect, was moreover, sentimental, slyly 
humorous, often filled with sharp aspersions against the whites, 
bitter and merciless in its indictment of those colored people who 
imitated their white masters. ' Toucoutou' is an example of the 
latter in song ' there is no soap white enough to wash your 
skin.' (See 'Songs,' page 42.8.) 

Mammy had her male prototype, too. Many an old 'Uncle* 

The Creoles 145 

was as well loved within the family circle. A present-day Creole 
described Prosper Ernest Fournier, famous in Creole New Or- 
leans as the perfect male servant, saying : ' Prosper was a Negro 
with the instincts and culture of a white gentleman. He was one 
of the most polished individuals with whom I have ever had the 
pleasure of shaking hands.' 

Prosper, no part-caste Negro, but full-blooded African, was a 
great cook, an authority on the opera and operatic voices and a 
student of the French and English classics. He was only em- 
ployed by two families in his life. A member of one of the fam- 
ilies for whom he worked remembered: 

' He remained aloof from the other servants, both black and 
white, but was scrupulously polite in his relations with the 
family. The only place that was taboo was his kitchen. We 
respected that and rarely entered that room without an invita- 
tion. Like many other slave cooks he had, in his youth, been 
apprenticed to a great chef in Paris, and after a number of years 
had returned, stating that he wished to prove that his master's 
trust had borne fruit, and his cooking was an exquisite art. He 
insisted on writing a menu each day and this was placed before 
my father at the sacred dinner hour, to be passed to the rest of 
the family after his perusal. Prosper was very strict about the 
dinner hour. Seven P.M. was seven P.M.; he always reminded us 
that a delay of five minutes ruined a dish. 

'Prosper never left the house except to go to market, to 
church, and each Saturday night (the fashionable night) to the 
French Opera. On the latter occasions he rode in the family car- 
riage with us, then went upstairs to the top balcony reserved for 
colored people. Here he had always the same seat, in the front 
row, center. Whenever any white person he knew entered one 
of the dress circle boxes he would rise and offer them a Chester- 
fieldian bow, which they always returned. Then, the cynosure 
of all the other Negroes' eyes, he devoted himself to the per- 
formance. I have heard many well-known music lovers ask his 
opinion of the leading voices of a troupe, and he would always 
state his views respectfully but frankly, and his judgment was 
always accepted. When a famous diva gave a farewell perform- 
ance in New Orleans, an authority on the opera asked Prosper 

146 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

his opinion. "She should never have been permitted to sing in 
this city again," was the answer, "for her once incomparable 
voice is now forever gone. ' ' The man was stupefied. ' ' I thought 
so, too," he admitted, "but I did not dare express myself. I am 
glad, though, that you have indicated my own musical sense." 

' Prosper was a connoisseur of fine wines, and insisted that to 
cook without wine was an absolute impossibility. However, he 
imbibed only a demi-bouteille of claret while having his dinner 
in solitary state. He held the keys to the cellar and never asked 
permission to do this. Each day when he drew the claret, 
Madeira, sherry and sauterne for the various dishes, he added his 
due" irrespective of who was present. He would discuss freely 
with my father as to its qualities and bouquet as compared to 
the other vintages on the shelves. 

' He took good care of the boys in the house. If any of us were 
sick he insisted on sitting up by our beds all night, and no nurse 
could have given us better care than this tall, dignified black 
man. If any of us came home very late after a rather intemperate 
evening, he would sneak us into the house without Father hear- 
ing us. Once my brother was particularly noisy and Prosper had 
to hold him tight and put a firm hand over his mouth to keep 
him from singing and shouting. Father awoke and came part of 
the way down the stairs, demanding to know what was going 
on. Prosper lied like a gentleman, saying that he had been un- 
able to sleep and had been walking in the garden. Father told 
him he was crazy, then returned to his room, and Prosper man- 
aged to get that young man to bed without his ever knowing the 

' Prosper came to a sad end. There was an old mulat tress who 
did some of the family washing, and who was held in great awe 
by all the Negroes as a witch and a seeress. Once she kept some 
of our curtains too long and Prosper offered to go and get them. 
The other servants advised him not to, but he laughed at their 
fears. Returning, he told his brother, who was our gardener 
and general utility man, * ' Guess what Clementine told me? She 
said you will be dead within a week and that I shall be in the in- 
sane asylum!" He thought this was a great. joke, since he was 
too well educated to be at all superstitious. 

The Creoles - 147 

' But within a week his brother was run over by a cotton float 
and instantly killed. A few days later Prosper, returning from 
market, went stark mad, throwing his marketing and money all 
over the street and yelling like a Comanche Indian. He had to 
be placed in a mental -disease hospital. When he emerged he was 
a shrunken, stooped old man. He did not live much longer. Be- 
fore he died he made a last request. No colored man must touch 
his coffin. This wish was granted and some of the most promi- 
nent business men in New Orleans bore Prosper Ernest Fournier's 
casket to the grave.' 

The importance of these servants the Mammies and the 
' Prospers' - - cannot be overestimated in their influence on Cre- 
ole family life. Mammy's influence was so great and so much of 
her time was spent with her children that most young Creoles 
grew up speaking the language. Gradually it became the custom 
to speak Creole even in the drawing-rooms at times, for it was 
far more native to Louisiana than French could ever be, and more 
flexible, being capable of turns and twists impossible in French. 

As a whole, Creole children were very spoiled, but their re- 
strictions were many. They were seldom allowed to speak at the 
table, except at dessert, when the whole family would sing. 

Coco Robichaux must have been a little sister of the modern 
'little man who wasn't there,' though she was very much alive 
in the mind of every Creole child. No one ever knew who she 
was or where she lived or what she looked like, but poor Coco 
Robichaux received the blame for everything. Every time a 
naughty little girl did something she shouldn't, she was told, 
' You didn't do that. That was the Coco Robichaux!' or, 'A nice 
little girl like you wouldn't do that. Only Coco Robichaux 
could be so naughty.' The only thing really known about this 
Coco Robichaux was that she was very, very bad. She had all 
the faults any child between two and ten could possibly possess. 

Children loved to help clarify the drinking water. In all 
houses there were several large jars, called ollas, which were kept 
filled with Mississippi water. A lump of alum was dropped in, 
and the children would stir for hours, until the water was puri- 

School started at eight or nine years of age. The primary 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

training was usually received in the private establishment in the 
home of some spinster in financial straits. After First Com- 
munion, at the age of twelve, the boys were sent to study with 
the Jesuit Fathers, while the girls entered convents. 

When she finished at the convent, the young Creole lady made 
her initial appearance at the French Opera House, was given a 
reception' and thus considered launched in society. There were 
no debutantes; a girl was usually as popular her third season out 
as during her first. This initial appearance at the Opera House 
was the only event similar to the modern debut. For the occa- 
sion she wore a gorgeous gown imported from Paris, carried a 
bouquet with long ribbon streamers and a fine lace fan. 

Accompanied by her parents, the girl would receive callers in 
the box rented for the performance. Between the acts the young 
men would drop in to pay compliments" and their respects to the 
chaperons. And, behind their fluttering fans, the gossips would 
watch each box closely, keeping careful count of the number of 
male visitors each received, for by this was a girl's popularity 

The Creole girl was schooled in self-effacement. Her picture 
must never appear in the newspapers nor must a single line ever 
be written about her. When a young man wished to call, it was 
necessary that he have a friend act as intermediary and ask the 
permission of the girl's father. 

But the young couple were never allowed to be alone. If the 
youth were guilty of any wishful thinking, it was soon dis- 
pelled, and completely. His fate usually was to spend the eve- 
ning playing a riotous game of dominoes with the girl's father, 
while the mother and tantes questioned him regarding family 
background, financial and social assets. 

No great importance was attached to this first visit. However, 
should he continue to call, and not mention his intentions, the 
parents would demand that he do so, without hesitation. There 
was no respect or time to be wasted on a young man with le ccsur 
comme un artichaud a heart like an artichoke (that is, a leaf for 
everyone). Creole girls had no time to waste on flirts. Marriage 
was the entire aim of their lives. And if unmarried at twenty-five 
hope was forsaken; they 'might as well throw their corsets on 

The Creoles - 149 

the armoire.' An unmarried girl was never permitted to wear a 
velvet dress, though she might have one in her hope chest. After 
the fatal twenty-five, if unmarried, she was supposed to adopt the 
hooded bonnet with ribbons that tied under her chin. 

Should a young man fall in love and wish to marry the girl he 
had been visiting, his friend was called into service again in the 
capacity of a John Alden, only her father must be approached 
again and asked for his daughter's hand. The young lady had 
nothing to do with it. The whole exciting situation created an 
occasion that demanded the utmost caution, tact and diplomacy. 
Accepted, the prospective groom and his father called on the 
girl's father and every obstacle was cleared away. Each family 
carefully scrutinized the family tree of the other. Material 
wealth meant little, la famille was everything. Did they come 
from a good family? Were they even faintly of the gens du 
commurti Even that really unmentionable consideration must be 
investigated; was there any possible trace of cafe au laitt All the 
skeletons were dragged forth for inspection. 

Only when both parties had passed this rigid examination did 
material considerations enter. But they were by no means neg- 
lected. A formal marriage contract was drawn up, listing the 
boy's and the girl's financial assets; properties, furniture, num- 
ber, names, worth and capacity of slaves, and cash all were 
included. The girl's dowry, usually ranging from one to forty 
thousand dollars, was submitted to the examination of the 
young man and his father. Despite all this, husbands were valu- 
able for their own sakes, and should the youth be unable to sup- 
port a wife, this was no bar to the marriage. Often the bride's 
father would find or create a place for him in his business, if his 
background were satisfactory. 

Creole women always enjoyed a reputation for great beauty. 
Some of the Americans coming to their city were tactless enough 
to remark that they were a bit plump, but others, perhaps liking 
the well-fed appearance, penned ecstatic praise home to New 

One, evidently completely enchanted by the New Orleans 
girls, wrote: 'In entering a sanctuary the soul bows down. The 
pen feels moved when it touches upon a sacred subject. The 

1 5 o - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

flower and woman are two treasures; the flower must have its 
perfume and woman her soul, a perfume that is more fragrant 
and less ephemeral. One finds in the traits of the Creole a dis- 
tinction perfect in harmony and form. Pure profiles, patrician 
lines, oval and delicate chiseling, lacking in vigor perhaps a 
little aerial the ethereal dominating the material, the ideal 
combating reality.' 

Luxuriant hair was the pride of every Creole lady. Washing 
it was a rite. When it began to gray, she secretly darkened it 
with coffee. Creoles denied using rouge and makeup, admitting 
only that occasionally a girl might rub her cheeks with crushed 
rose petals, but the Americans accused them of much elaborate 
artificial embellishment, though they admitted that it was done 
with great art. And they always took extreme good care of their 
complexions, wearing veils when out-of-doors at all times. Sun 
tan, instead of being valued as now, was considered disgraceful, 
indeed it might start ghastly rumors of caje au lait! 

They loved fine clothes. No woman would ever leave her home 
unless completely attired, including gloves and veil. For evening 
wear most of their gowns were imported from Paris, and their 
beauty was accentuated with many jewels. 

The Creole girl was never left alone with her young man, even 
after the engagement was announced. Often the entire family 
remained in the parlor throughout the evening. And when they 
went out, the future husband must expect plenty of company. It 
was perfectly proper that as many members of the family ac- 
company them as felt so inclined. 

After the formal announcement of the betrothal there was the 
dejeuner de fian$ailles engagement breakfast which all mem- 
bers of both families attended. The ring, presented to the girl at 
this event, was not the usual solitaire of today, but a large ruby 
surrounded by diamonds, in a flat, yellow gold setting. 

As the wedding day approached, the future groom presented 
his bride-to-be with the corbeille de noce wedding basket. This 
contained several articles of lace a handkerchief, veil and fan 
a Cashmere shawl, gloves and bits of jewelry. None of the 
jewelry was ever worn before the wedding day, nor could she 
leave home for three days before the marriage. 

Old Creole Ladies Dream of the Opulent Past 

Spiders Dwell in Haunted Houses 

c ^ 

Loup-Garou Holds his Convention on Bayou Goula 

He Believes Everything 

The Creoles j j j 

Monday and Tuesday were fashionable days for weddings, 
Saturday and Sunday being considered 'common* and Friday 
'Hangman's Day.' The latter was the day for all local execu- 

For many years the old Saint Louis Cathedral had a detail of 
Swiss Guards, who met all wedding and fuperal processions 
and preceded them up the aisle. Behind them, at the wedding, 
would walk the bride, accompanied by her father. Then came 
the groom, escorting the bride's mother. Next would be the 
groom's mother and father, the best man escorting a sister or 
some other relative pf the bride, followed by every brother, 
sister, aunt, uncle and cousin either of the pair possessed. 

The bride's gown was usually of tulle or silk muslin, trimmed 
with pearls and lace handed down through generations in la 
familk. She wore a short veil, orange blossoms in her hair, car- 
ried a bouquet. There were no ring bearers, no matron or maid 
of honor, nor any floral decorations in the church. The ceremony 
was always iri the evening, as Creoles would have considered it 
embarrassing to have the couple around all day after a morning 
marriage. Thus, as the Catholic Church does not permit the cel- 
ebration of Mass after noon, Creoles were never married at Nupr 
tial Mass. Not until 1910, when the Archbishop issued a decree 
forbidding Catholics to marry in church after twelve o'clock 
noon, did marriages at Mass become popular in New Orleans. 

The wedding ring, called the alliance ring, was a double ring 
of gold, which when opened became two interlocking bands 
revealing the initials of the bride and groom and the date of the 
wedding. Both parties wore alliance rings. These can still be 
purchased in New Orleans. 

After the ceremony all the relatives signed the register, some- 
times as many as fifty. Rice was never thrown, nor did the bride 
toss her bouquet; it was sent to the church, the cemetery or to 
the convent where she had been educated. 

A great reception always followed. Champagne and a supper 
were served. The bride and groom mingled for an hour or so, 
then it was considered decent that they retire. The bride cut her 
cake, every girl present receiving a piece. This was placed under 
the pillow at night along with the names of three eligible young 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

men of her acquaintance. The one she dreamed of would be her 
husband and she always retired determined to dream. 

The Creole newly weds went on no honeymoon. Usually they 
remained in the bride's home. After the hour at the reception, 
the bride was escorted to her room by her mother. Here she was 
assisted in disrobing and carefully dressed in the hand-embroi- 
dered nightgown and negligee made for this great occasion. Her 
flowing hair was tied back with a ribbon or perhaps adorned 
with an elaborate boudoir cap. Then she was propped against 
the pillows in the heavy four-posted bed and left to await her 
new husband. The Creole bride, often sixteen years old, and 
unbelievably sheltered until now, must lie there, trembling and 
frightened at the unknown, gazing up at the pale blue bridal 
tester above her until the groom appeared. Apparently young 
Creole grooms were not without their own qualms. One cau- 
tiously carried an immense umbrella into the bridal chamber and 
undressed behind it ! 

These bridal testers, at least the most elaborate ones, were the 
creations of a certain Monsieur Dufau, a merchant at 37 Rue 
Chartres. But poor M. Dufau was the victim of an unfortunate 
occurrence that all but wrecked his career and business. 

This gentleman's shop was noted for its objets d'art, bric-a-brac, 
and fine paintings. But the most famous articles of merchandise 
were the artistically fashioned ciel-de-lits or testers. These were 
very popular, even the ordinary ones being tastefully made of 
calico or sateen. But most of M. Dufau 's art was expended on 
ciel-de-lits for brides. These were always of pale blue silk, gath- 
ered in the middle by gilt ornaments. Across the pale blue 
heaven chubby cupids would chase each other with bows and 
arrows, pink ribbons modestly draping these tiny love gods. A 
wide cream-colored dentelle valencienne, the finest lace obtainable, 
trimmed the edge. It all combined to create an atmosphere sym- 
bolizing eternal love, blue horizons and rosy dreams. 

Then ruin descended upon M. Dufau. A member of a club 
called Le Comite des Bon Amis, the time came for him to enter- 
tain his good friends. And it seemed that an extraordinarily 
good piece of luck occurred at about the same time. A sailor 
offered M. Dufau a keg of rum at a ridiculously low price. Seiz- 

The Creoles 

ing this opportunity, the merchant bought the liquor with no 
loss of time and invited his friends over to enjoy it. When the 
first round of drinks was passed everyone remarked on its pe- 
culiar flavor. The second drink was so bad that no one could 
finish it. 

There was great consternation and curiosity. An axe was 
brought and M. Dufau himself split the keg open. What met the 
eyes of his guests was enough to stand their hair on end. Inside 
the keg, sitting upright, in a perfect state of preservation, was a 
little old man with long whiskers! 

Poor M. Dufau, though technically cleared of any connection 
with the corpse in the rum, was immediately banished from his 
club, and he received no more orders for his masterfully fash- 
ioned bridal ciel-de-lits. 

The bride and groom could not leave their room for at least 
five days ! Their meals were brought in and a special servant as- 
signed to their needs. The bride could not appear on the streets 
for at least two weeks. If they were spending their ' honeymoon' 
at the groom's house or in a home of their own, she could not 
even visit her mother. If she were so daring as to do this, she 
could be sure that while she would be received courteously, her 
mother would not fail to get in a little remark about the shame 
and indecency of being seen on the streets after having so re- 
cently married. And no one not even the parents called on 
the young couple during these two weeks. After that the fam- 
ilies were practically one. A Frenchman who married a Creole 
girl of that era said that a man marrying one of them married not 
only the girl but also her five hundred relatives! 

Charivaris were given widows and widowers who remarried. 
Tin pans were beaten, cowbells rung and as much noise as pos- 
sible made. The newly weds were supposed to treat the cele- 
brants to a supper. If they failed to do this, the charivari might 
continue night after night. 

The most notable charivari ever given in New Orleans was 
that rendered the widow of Don Andres Almonester, the great 
benefactor of New Orleans. In 1798, when middle-aged, she 
bestowed her hand on a young man in his twenties, Monsieur 
Castillon, the French Consul to New Orleans. This young man 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

tous most unpopular and generally conceded to be a fortune- 
hunter; and the widow was considered to be vain and selfish. 

The charivari that followed their marriage lasted three days 
and nights. The house in which the couple sought shelter was 
surrounded by hundreds, many on horseback, some disguised and 
wearing masks. Try as they would, the newly wedded pair 
could not escape their tormentors. Fleeing the house, they were 
followed from end to end of the city, across the Mississippi River 
and back. Some of the crowd carried along a coffin on a cart, 
which contained an effigy of Madame Almonester's first hus- 
band, while she was represented by a living person sitting beside 
it. Finally, the newly wedded couple had to give three thousand 
dollars in coin for the poor. Almost immediately afterward they 
left for France. 

Long after charivaris were banned irl the city, they continued 
in the country. Arid even today in New Orleans many a married 
couple is driven about the city, followed by a dozen other cars, 
all blowing horns and generally making as much noise as pos- 

Weddings on Creole plantations, outside the city, were even 
more elaborate affairs. Everything was ordered from New Or- 
leans and shipped by boat. Wedding cakes and nougat pieces, 
fragile as they Were, would arrive undamaged. Even hair- 
dressers would be summoned to arrange the coiffures of the 
bride and the other ladies. Five hundred guests at a wedding 
was not unusual. Often the bride's father chartered a steamboat 
to bring the guests out to the plantation. 

The Creole's home was always his pride. Especially the first 
parlor. Whatever wealth or pretensions a Creole possessed went 
into this room> and many of its furnishings were imported from 
France. Never was this salon open to casual intrusion, but 
always kept tightly closed against the sun and air so that the 
rugs and furniture would not fade. This room was only for very 
special company, weddings, funerals and celebrations. Woe to 
the child caught entering this room. 

Most prominent feature in the room was the fireplace, always 
of marble except in the poorer homes, where it was usually brick. 
The mantelpiece was always elaborately draped and a huge mir- 

The Creoles 

ror, framed in gold-leaf or gilt, was hung above it. Before the 
fireplace gleamed the screen and andirons, always in a bright 
gold finish. The furniture was apt to be rosewood, richly 
carved, and upholstered in expensive silk or tapestry. Along the 
walls were oil paintings -of ancestors. There were always; an 
etagere whatnot in one corner, holding china and bric-a- 
brac, porcelain vases of varied design and an ornate crystal chan- 
delier hanging from the center of the ceiling, 

The second parlor, separated from the first by a porte b coulisse, 
so that when these folding doors were thrown open the two 
rooms would form a grand salon for very formal occasions, was 
neither so carefully nor so expensively furnished as the first. In 
this room the family gathered evenings to talk and enjoy their 
music and their books. Portraits of humbler ancestors than 
those in the first parlor were hung here. There were usually or- 
namental wax fruit, wreaths and flowers of human hair all 
under glass statuettes of ivory and bronze, antimacassars on 
sofas and chairs and eventails lataniers palmetto fans in 
sand-filled vases. 

Every bedroom in the house contained an altar, for of course 
all Creoles were staunchly Catholic, usually a small table cov- 
ered with blue sateen and a lace cloth with a wide valance and 
holding candles, votive lights, statues of favorite saints and 
holy water. There were four-posted beds with testers, tremen- 
dous armoires with full-length mirrors, washstands holding bowl 
and pitcher of gaily flowered china accompanied by numerous 
matching receptacles. 

In summer the floors of every room were covered with mat- 
ting. This was not removed when old and faded, but simply cov- 
ered with another piece. In winter the rugs were laid over the 

During the warmest months of the year, the Creole practically 
lived in his courtyard. Here was an outdoor living-room, walled 
with tropical greens. Vines entwined the white pillars of the 
piazza, and climbed up the tinted walls toward the green shut- 
ters of the windows that gazed downward like numerous sleepy 
eyes. Banana trees waved their huge leaves with every breeze. 
Large urns held plants of every sort. Usually a fountain bubbled 

156 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

and sang in the center. Along the gravel walks among the 
flower beds benches and old-fashioned rockers were set out. 
Here were escape from the heat and perfect quiet and peace for 
reading or for conversation. Creole houses often faced these 
patios, were built with their backs on the street, their salons 
opening here. There were always balconies above .still 
known as 'galleries' in New Orleans. 

The Creoles were gay and festive. The ball, the theater, pri- 
vate soirees and receptions were of prime importance. Americans 
moving into the city thought the Creoles pleasure-mad. It was 
nothing for a Creole girl, amazingly frail for all other purposes, 
to dance at balls for four nights in succession without showing 
the least sign of fatigue. 

When they could afford it their parties were tremendously 
elaborate and expensive. After one of General Beauregard's vic- 
tories, the Creoles of New Orleans gave him a party during 
which a fountain of champagne flowed all evening. This was 
set up in the center of the salon and guests had only to hold their 
glasses under the golden flow to refill them. 

The soiree, a party less formal than a ball, was held in a pri- 
vate home. These were simple but delightful affairs, where 
young couples danced far into the night, though always, of 
course, under the watchful eyes of parents, t antes and all the rest 
of la famille. 

But the opera was really the center of all Creole social life. 
Here, in the old French Opera House, the music and perform- 
ances were unrivaled anywhere in America. Attendance was al- 
ways plentiful, there even being loges grillees screened boxes 
where men escorting women of questionable reputation, people 
in mourning and pregnant ladies might enjoy the opera or play 
without being seen. Often, after a performance, some patron 
gave a ball in the Opera House; at other times the entire build- 
ing was rented for the evening and an immense reception given. 
Between performances punch was sold in the foyer and here 
young men might escort young women and the chaperons. In 
front of the Opera House lounged aged Negro crones selling 
steaming bowls of gumbo. 

Passionately fond of the opera, the Creoles viewed it with an 

The Creoles 

enthusiasm unknown today. Someone wrote: 'At the end of a 
performance the Creoles stand up, wildly waving their hands 
and filling the air with loud bravos. Much has been written' in 
prose and in verse on the power of music, but I have never read 
anything recorded so vividly and expressed so eloquently as in 
the face of a Creole girl when the spell of one of these French 
operas is upon her. The nervous twitch of the hand that grasps 
the railing in front of her box, the glow in her eye, the height- 
ened color of her cheeks, the rapid change of expression, respon- 
sive to the change from joy to sorrow in the hero, gladness to 
lamentation in the music all show that she is carried away 
far beyond the bounds of herself into a world created within her 
by the power of a Meyerbeer or a Gounod.' Once a Creole 
woman sold the last piece of furniture in her home to purchase a 
ticket to the French opera. 

Invitations to social affairs were brought by a servant, never 
mailed. And on her way to and from a party a girl would carry 
her party shoes in a little silk bag, wearing more practical street 
shoes to brave the then muddy and un paved streets of New Or- 
leans, changing at her destination, and again to return home. 

Sunday was anything but an unworldly day, a fact which 
shocked Protestant travelers from the North. Weyth wrote: 
4 New Orleans is a dreadful place in the eyes of a New England 
man. They keep Sunday as we in Boston keep the Fourth of 
July.' And until now no 'blue' Sunday laws have ever been 
successfully imposed on New Orleans. 

Creoles attended Mass faithfully each Sunday morning, but 
once that duty was performed they turned the rest of the day into 
one of pleasure. Guests came for breakfast and remained until 
past midnight. In the afternoon attendance at a performance of 
light opera was customary. In the evening, after a huge dinner, 
the Creoles danced and flirted at numerous planned and im- 
promptu soirees until late. 

Sunday mornings at the French Market must have given as 
typical a picture of Creole New Orleans as was possible to obtain 
anywhere. There was not only the unique variety of characters, 
but a contagious spirit of festivity, as if everyone were on holi- 
day instead of merely shopping for the traditionally large Sunday 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

dinner. There was such chattering among the housewives, as 
they met among the stalls and stands, that even today the ex- 
pression 'It sounds like the French Market!' is common in New 
Orleans any time a roomful of people seem all to be talking at 

At early dawn the women would appear, huge baskets on their 
arms, peering into the butchers' stocks, smelling, touching and 
examining the fruit and vegetables, wrangling over prices. 
Itinerant vendors would line the edges of the market, offering 
for sale parrots, monkeys, mockingbirds, canaries, alligators, 
mousetraps, rat poison, toothache cures, crockery and all sorts 
of notions and knick-knacks. These merchants would often 
shout their wares : 

'Only a picayune!' 

The parrots would scream, the monkeys jabber, the fowls 
cluck and gobble. Indian squaws, wrapped in gaudy blankets, 
some with papooses on their backs, would offer baskets, pottery 
arid bright beads. Half-naked bucks would stalk here and there 
among the milling throng, some of them staggering a little, their 
eyes glassy with firewater. 

A huge woman, the numerous keys dangling from her belt 
revealing her profession as keeper of a boarding-house, attended 
by a lank, cadaverous black slave, might appear, driving hard, 
sharp bargains, much more concerned with price than with qual- 
ity. Graceful ladies, wives and daughters of Creole gentlemen, 
followed by several servants, would shop with more care, fas- 
tidiously selecting only the best. 

There would probably be one of the city's lovely quadroons in 
sight, trailed by a single servant. She would walk like a queen, 
her chin high, her jet brows disdainful, her handsome silk gown 
lifted just the proper inch or two from the cobblestones. She 
would be as proud as any Creole lady in the city. And why not? 
Her father might be one of its most fashionable residents. Her 
lover, to whom she is absolutely true, another. She would be 
the mistress of a fine house, with slaves, a carriage and horses at 
her disposal. She is well educated, can receive guests With ele- 
gance and grace, and preside over the largest dinner with dignity. 

But what caused most excitement at the French Market during 

The Creoles 

that period was the dentist, who, perched on a platform, aided 
by an assistant and a brass band, pulled teeth in full view of the 
crowd. A victim would advance timidly, but before he changed 
his mind the assistant would push him into the chair and give 
a signal to the band. Immediately those gentlemen would strike 
up a loud piece, completely drowning the yells of the patient as 
the tooth was yanked out of course without anesthetic. This 
was always very amusing to everyone but the patient. 

Young Creole men, though also bound by the restrictions of 
caste, lived in a much broader world than their sisters. Theirs 
was the privilege of attending the famous quadroon balls, to 
dance and flirt with beautiful young women, so lightly touched 
with cafe au lait that a stranger would never have suspected their 
mixed blood, and eventually to select one as a mistress. 

In 1790, New Orleans, a city of eight thousand, had fifteen 
hundred unmarried women of color. The fairest of these were 
trained and educated by their mothers and presented each year 
at the quadroon balls. 

These balls were always conducted with great dignity and ele- 
gance, and attendance there risked no social stigma. The affairs 
were gay and lavish, but never vulgar, the young women being 
quite as well trained and as ladylike as the white belles of the 
era. Many of them were so fair that they boasted blonde hair 
and blue eyes. 

When a young Creole took a fancy to a particular girl, he ap- 
proached her mother, gave satisfactory proof of his ability to 
support her, and a small home was established in the quadroon 
section of the Vieux Carre. Many a father willingly footed his 
son's bills for the upkeep of his mistress, for the custom was 
practically universal. The arrangement usually terminated at 
the young man's marriage, a financial settlement being made, 
the girl afterward marrying another quadroon or going into the 
rooming-house business. Some, however, seem to have contin- 
ued for life, a genuine attachment having arisen between the 
Creole and his quadroon sweetheart. Children born of these 
unions were well cared for, often splendidly educated. The girls 
often followed in their mothers' footsteps. 
Quadroon men were less fortunate than their sisters. They 

/ 6 o Gumbo Ya-Ya 

could not attend the balls, were often scorned by the women of 
their own color. Usually they were compelled to marry mulatto 
or Negro women, unless they married a discarded mistress in 
later life. 

The women, however, were ostracized by white ladies. They 
were not supposed to ride in carriages within the city limits, nor 
to remain seated in the presence of a white woman. A white 
woman could have a quadroon girl flogged like a slave at any 

The balls were advertised in the newspapers of the period. 

One in the Daily Delta, January i, 1857, reads: 

Louisiana Ball Room, corner of Esplanade and Victory Streets. 
Grand Fancy Dress Masquerade Quadroon Ball every THURS- 

Admission Fifty Cents. Doors open at seven o'clock. Ball to 
commence at eight. 

Dueling prevailed in New Orleans to an extent unknown even 
in France. Creole society was an aristocratic and feudal organ- 
ization based upon slavery, and Creoles lived like princes, de- 
veloping a tremendous pride. Too, Latin passions tropicalized 
under the Louisiana sun seemed to assume a violence surpassing 
anything in calmer France. Young men fought over the slightest 
affront, for such absurd reasons as the honor of the Mississippi 
River, more than often for the sheer ferocious pleasure of it. 

At least half of these duels were caused by arguments at public 
balls and soirees. To tread on a Creole's foot, to brush against 
him, to gaze at him with certain expressions, accidentally to 
carry off the lady he had chosen to dance with, any of these were 
ample grounds. 

Everything was arranged very quietly. The young man who 
had suffered the crushed corn dropped his lady partner with her 
chaperon, had a few minutes' conversation with one or two of 
his friends and slipped outdoors, followed by a group of men, all 
wearing pleasant, indifferent smiles. Just back of the Saint 
Louis Cathedral, in Saint Anthony's Garden, the men would 
gather, concealed from the streets by tall growths of evergreens. 
The first blood drawn usually appeased Creole wrath. The unin- 

The Creoles 161 

jured participant would replace his coat and return to the dance 
as if nothing had occurred; the other would go home, and be 
seen wearing a bandage for the next few days. 

These events became so frequent that there were often three 
or four a day in New Orleans. This rear garden of the Cathedral 
and the oaks in City Park were usually the scenes of the encoun- 
ters. Though swords were most popular, pistols were sometimes 
used, and though honor was usually satisfied by the first sight 
of blood, it is certain that many duels terminated only with the 
death of one or other of the participants. Fencing schools were 
numerous and every Creole gentleman was skilled in the art. 

And, according to the New Orleans Weekly Picayune of June 6, 
1844, a ^ duels might not have been confined to the male sex. 
This newspaper reported : 

Two girls of the town, with their seconds, who were also 
girls, were arrested by the police when about to fight a duel 
with pistols and bowie knives near Bayou St. John. Finding 
they would not be allowed to endanger each other's lives ac- 
cording to approved and fashionable rules, the belligerents 
had a small fight ' au naturel' or in other words, set to and 
tore each other's faces and hair in dog and cat style. They are 

all in the calaboose. 

k" , 

Cockfights were popular among these young men. Often as 
many as six birds would be set to battling in a single pit. Bet- 
ting was the most important part of the sport, and it is possible 
that as much money changed hands over the scrappy roosters as 
is won and lost on the New Orleans racetrack today. 

Baptisms, name days, birthdays, anniversaries, holy days, all 
were affairs of ceremony in the Creole household, each the occa- 
sion for a reception or perhaps an elaborate meal of the sort 
known as un re fas de Lucullus a feast of Lucullus. 

Even the daily dinner was an occasion. Extra places were 
always set at the table, for no one knew how many guests Father 
might bring home. Every self-respecting household owned din- 
ner service for twenty-four. Some had sets for a thousand, with 
silver and glassware to match! Should the salons not be large 
enough for a planned soiree, the Creoles would convert their 
courtyards into ballrooms. Walls were set up, a canvas ceiling 

162 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

stretched, flooring laid and the whole of it decorated and painted 
so that it resembled a part of the house itself. For all social 
affairs every member of the family, every relative, no matter how 
distant, must receive an invitation. To forget one was a gross 
insult and grounds for a terrible scandale. 

Should there be a bachelor in the family, he would take dinner 
with a different member every week. It was customary for him 
always to bring the dessert, the favorite, in later years, being a 
Sarah Bernhardt cake a cake with wine poured ovef it and 
spread with rich jelly. Other contributions might be tfa de 
fromage hogshead cheese or birds' tongues. One Creole had 
a noted delicatessen proprietor save snipes' tongues for him all 
week, and on Sunday when he went visiting he brought a gift 
of vol-au-vent pattie shell containing the tongues. Every 
dining table of any pretensions at all had always a center piece 
called a piece montie^ which was a mounted figure of nougat, 
moulded while still hot into the form of a church, a pyramid or 
similar shape. Many were very elaborate^ often two feet in 
height, the leading confectioners in the city competing with each 
other in originality of designs and decorations. There might be 
a cafe brulot, a festive brew of coffee, citrus peel and burning 

A bachelor was a valuable addition to any family. Once well 
past middle age, he was considered a real asset as an escort for 
young ladies. The girls always did a lot of whispering about 
why he had never married, always romanticizing his past and 
suspecting some tragic love affair. Usually of charming manners 
and a good dancer, he played an important role in the Creole 

Baptisms took place when a child was about a month old. 
The farrain godfather and the marraine godmother 
were always relatives, usually one from each side of the family. 
Those chosen considered it a great honor, and the child would 
be raised to be most attentive to his godparents. The marraine 
would always give the infant a baptismal gift of a gold cross and 
chain, while the farrain would invariably give either a silver 
cup or silver knife and fork. Besides this he must pay the priest 
his fee, often from twenty to one hundred dollars, presented to 

The Creoles 16$ 

him in the bottom of a cone of dragee s sugar-coated almonds. 
He also gave the marraine a gift and an elaborate cornet of 
dragees and contributed something to the huge repast that fol- 
lowed, frequently the piece montee. The honor of being chosen 
pprrain was considerable but expensive. 

Name days, the feast days of the saints for whom they were 
named, were always celebrated among Creoles. A child born on 
Saint Joseph's Day or Saint Louis' Day or Saint Theophile's Day 
was given the name of that saint and always honored him as his 
personal patron. The most important of all the feast days was 
that of Saint Marie. 

There were so many Maries that girls were called Marie 
Josephine, Marie Anne, Marie Marguerite, and by such nick- 
names as Mariette, Mamie, Mamaille, Minette, Mimi, Maille, 
Mane, Mamoutte and many others. 

There were Cousine Maries and Tame Maries in every family, 
and no one dared forget one of them on Saint Marie's Day, Au- 
gust 15. A special cake was always made for the occasion, a 
massepain, much like the modern sponge cake, but with a sugar 
icing on which was written in pink 'Bonne Fete" (Happy Feast 
Day) or the words ' Sainte Marie.' To conceal the hole in the 
center of the massepain a pink or red rose was used, held in place 
by four outspread silver leaves. Of all the gifts brought the hon- 
ored Marie, the cake was the most important one. 

Even the servants were not forgotten on this day. All these 
were given bright tignons, wide cotton aprons, round hoop ear- 
rings, brooches and checked calico 'josies.' 

At a party for Tante Marie, the children would always gather 
in a circle after the gifts had been presented and sing the special 
' teasing* song of the day. 

Oh, Miss Mary, set your cap, 
Oh, Miss Mary, set your cap, 
Oh, Miss Mary, set your cap, 
Miss Mary has a beau. 


Aie set your cap, 
Aic set your cap. 

1 6 4 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Aie set your cap, 
How she loves her beau! 


At the mention of a beau, Tante Marie would let fall a tear 
and her face would turn crimson. Was it because of some ro- 
mance in her past? Perhaps the smile of someone killed in a duel 
rushing back into her memory. Like the bachelors, all old maids 
were supposed to have had secret and tragic romances. 

First Communion was another excuse for a reception and a big 
meal. After the Communion Mass there was a tremendous 
breakfast and in the afternoon a reception for the family and 
friends. The child, attired in snowy white, proudly displayed a 
large collection of medals and holy pictures. The more medals 
the greater the pride. 

Christmas was strictly a religious festival. Papa Noel came 
down the chimney to fill stockings, but left only inexpensive 
gifts and trinkets. There were family dinners, but turkey was 
not served. 

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve was an occasion for every- 
one to attend church. To help pass the hours before midnight, 
and knowing the walk to the Cathedral would be long and cold, 
hot eggnog was served, the preparations being long and elabo- 
rate. There must be just the right amount of whiskey, exactly 
enough sweetening, a precise temperature. Father performed the 
ritual of the eggnog. Midnight Masses are still the custom in 
New Orleans on the night before Christmas. 

New Year's Day was more exciting. Then were the children 
given their better gifts. This was done very early in the morning, 
for on this day every child must visit his marrame and parrain, all 
his tantes, his grandparents and numerous other relatives. New 
clothes were always made for the day, and children spoke of 
ma role de jour de Van and mon chapeau de jour de Van all through 
the coming year. Before receiving his presents each child pre- 
sented his parents with a carefully prepared compliment de jour de 
r an in a large pale pink envelope. This was a sheet of pink 
paper trimmed with tinsel and pictures of fat cherubs ringing 
silver bells. Painstakingly written with a pencil, in French, 
would be the verse: 

The Creoles 16$ 

My dear Papa, my dear Mama, 
I wish you a Happy and Prosperous New Year. 
I will be a good little boy. 

I will not tease my little sister any more. 
I love you with all my heart. 

Immediately after breakfast the visits would begin, first to 
Mem ere 's, for Grandmother should come first. There was sel- 
dom far to go. All Creoles lived in the downtown section, the 
faubourg d'en bas. 

When Memere received the children in the first parlor, 
opened for this occasion they would recite some verses before 
she gave them the presents awaiting them. 

These four little verses tell you good morning, 
These four little verses give you my love, 
These four little verses give you my gift, 
These four little verses ask you for mine. 

Then off to the tantes y the marraines, the parrains and other 
relatives, to receive gifts at every stop, until slnall arms ached 
under the weight of them. 

In the last half of the nineteenth century, reveillons became 
popular on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. These were all 
night parties that terminated only at dawn. Modern counter- 
parts of these affairs are still popular in New Orleans on these 
nights. Fireworks were always beloved on these nights until 
recently when banned by law. 

The saison de visites season of visits opened with the 
French opera in November and ran until Easter. One day each 
week the Creole family was 'at home,' and friends were infor- 
mally entertained. Liqueurs and coffee were always served. 
Everyone left cards when visiting. If the hostess were not ' at 
home,' the cards were left anyway. Later in the evening the men 
made their rounds and at nine o'clock a supper was served to a 
few intimate friends. A group in the same neighborhood would 
always have the same day, since travel about the city was con- 
sidered quite arduous and every Creole lady was the personifica- 
tion of frailty no matter what her weight. 

Teas were unknown in New Orleans until about forty years 

1 66 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

ago, when a Mrs. Slocomb introduced the custom. Returning 
home from many years abroad, she purchased a large house in 
Esplanade, decided to meet all her old friends at a tea. She forgot 
to consider some might have died during her absence, but invited 
them all. From then on it was said, 'Mrs. Slocomb was so 
polite that she even invited the dead to her tea party.' 

March fourth was 'Firemen's Day,' and always a gala event 
on the Creole calendar. The firemen would parade^ the streets 
were decorated, and friends tossed them bouquets of flowers in 
which cigars were concealed. 

Saint Barbe's Day was dedicated to the soldiers. At nine in the 
morning they all attended Mass at the Cathedral, and, after the 
parade, enjoyed a feast at the armory. 

The Mardi Gras gradually became the most important event 
in the year, as it is today. Street masking and balls were popular 
in the earliest years of the nineteenth century. Young Creole 
blades would march on foot through the Vieux Carre in costume 
on Fat Tuesday, while young ladies Oil the galleries would 
shower them with flowers, all in imitation of the centuries-old 
festival in Europe. 

Creole girls were not, of course, permitted to mask 4 but re- 
ceived the young men on their galleries, where there was much 
flirting and exchanging of compliments, sparkling wit and de- 
light in guessing which of their friends it was disguised as a 
Spanish cavalier, or as Satan, or a fierce pirate. Once in a while 
a playful tante defied convention and masked, but those wishing 
to risk a scandale were few. 

Carnival balls were much rarer than now, and the invitation 
committee extremely strict, scrupulously examining every name, 
to make certain only the crime de la crime were admitted. Money 
was no consideration, family all. A very few such exclusive 
organizations still exist. 

Discontinued during the Civil War, Mardi Gras returned in 
vigorous new birth and gradually grew to the magnificent spec- 
tacle the whole country comes to view today. 

Of the religious feast days, those of Saint John the Baptist, 
Saint Medard, Saint Joseph and Saint Martin were all ones for 
particular observance. On Saint Blaise's Day faithful Roman 

The Creoles i6j 

Catholics went to the Cathedral to have their throats blessed. 
They still do so. 

Holy Week was closely observed by the Creoles. Holy Thurs- 
day was always spent in visiting various churches to see the 
repositories. Children were told that the ringing of the church 
bells in the city Holy Thursday meant that they were flying to 
Rome to see the Pope. On Holy Saturday they were told the 
ringing of the bells meant that they were flying back to the 

On Good Friday Creoles visited nine churches on foot and in 
silence, this bringing good fortune. The Way of the Cross Was 
also performed on that day at the Cathedral, where a Stabat 
Mater was sung by a noted singer. 

There were many quaint customs and superstitions connected 
with Holy Week. Holy Thursday morning the housewives, on 
hearing the ringing of the church bells, would take the pots 
from the stoves and place them on the floor, making the sign of 
the cross as they did so. For good luck nine varieties of greens 
were cooked in every home a concoction known as gumbo 
%hebes. Eggs laid on that day were believed never to spoil, only 
to dry up. 

All kinds of superstitions were rife among the Creoles. On the 
first Friday of a month a girl must place her right foot on the 
footboard of the bed and say, 'Today, the first Friday of the 
month, I place my foot on the footboard and I pray the great 
Saint Nicholas to make me meet the one I am to marry.' Then 
she must jump into the bed without touching the floor, lie on 
the right side, her hand over her heart, and fall asleep, without 
talking, without laughing, without moving. 

If a housewife dropped a fork, a lady caller was coming; if she 
dropped a knife, it would be a man. No one seems ever to have 
figured out what a spoon indicated. 

Burning the berries of the juniper bush in the house was sup- 
posed to purify the air and kill all germs. It did work havoc 
among the mosquitoes. 

The howling of a dog and the chirping of a cricket were both 
thought to foretell the death of someone. If you slept with the 
moonlight in your face, you went crazy. And should you be so 

1 68- GumboYa-Ya 

unfortunate as to develop a spell of hiccoughing, everyone 
around was positive you had stolen something and would have 
no relief until you returned the article. 

Even voodooism found at least secret adherents among 
some of the Creoles. It was whispered that many an elegant 
gentleman and lady took part in Marie Laveau's orgies along the 
Bayou St. John. Medical men found it impossible to combat 
the million petty superstitions in which some of these people 
had implicit faith. Roger Baudier wrote in Catholic Action re- 
garding this: 

' The list of things that one should not do for fear of evoking 
misfortune was, among the old Creoles, as lengthy as the tresses 
that hung from Tante Coco's head. You couldn't turn around or 
breathe without running into some superstition and get a gasp 
or a little cry of dismay over something dreadful you had done. 
None' Etienne, him, he had studied in Paris and when he came 
back, well, he gave Memere and Cousine Doudouce and all the rest 
of the women in the house chills and goose pimples, the way he 
flouted the most venerable superstitions. Doudouce said it was 
tempting God, what he was doing, but Etienne mortified her 
when he told her that she made a mockery of God with her 
voodoo gris-gris. Said he thought himself le grand monsieur be- 
cause he had studied in Paris. Cedonie, her, she was very reli- 
gious, and she wouldn't believe all that nonsense, though she 
wasn't any too brave about certain things, and it was always 
a struggle to follow out what they had taught her at the Ursu- 
lines and to suppress the little frissons chills that she got 
at the sound of a cricket in the house or a dog howling at night. 
However, she lost all patience when Doudouce jumped all over 
her one day, because she was standing in front of the mirror with 
Lala s baby and allowing the child to catch itself in the looking 
glass. Doudouce gasped, "Ma chere!" What had she done? Now 
the child would have endless trouble teething, since she had 
looked at herself in the glass! None Adeodate had the terrible 
habit of keeping his hat on in the house. That always put 
Doudouce on pins and she always asked "Dada," as they called 
him for short, for his hat, but he always refused and said he was 
afraid her brother might get away with it, he was such un pauvrc 

The Creoles 169 

diable a poor devil. Whenever the children were lying down, 
Doudouce would never allow anyone to cross over them, without 
making him or her cross back, because crossing over a young per- 
son stunted growth. She was always fussing also at Cedonie for 
putting her umbrella on the bed, and she almost fainted one day 
when she found Etienne s umbrella open in his room. That was 
nothing to the bougonnement fussing and grumbling she had 
with Bibi y the cook, when she found her sweeping the kitchen 
after the Angelus had rung at the Cathedral at least an hour. 
Still, Doudouce told you, grand comme le bras, that she wasn't a bit 

Apparently, all Creoles would tell you 'grand comme le bras' 
as big as your arm that they were not superstitious, but 
hardly one of them would ever have dared flout a single belief 
handed down from generation to generation among them. And 
there is more respect paid many of these beliefs today than might 
be realized at first thought. It is said white ladies may still be 
seen knocking at the door of the tomb of Marie Laveau, per- 
forming the prescribed ritual to receive the grant of a wish. 
Love potions and gris-gris are still sold in New Orleans. 

During one of the fever epidemics Creole gentlemen fired a 
cannon into the air to kill the germs. Perhaps this was indic- 
ative of Creole tempestuousness rather than anything else. 

1 Night air' was the deadliest thing in all the world and every 
window was shut tight at night. However, all Creole bedrooms 
were equipped with fireplaces, through which some degree of 
ventilation occurred. 

Fantastic concoctions brewed at home were believed capable 
of curing all sorts of ailments. Moss, sassafras, orange leaves, 
camomile, potato leaves and bitter roots were a few of the in- 
gredients used. 

If a child were very ill, the Catholic Creoles vowed him to 
the Virgin Mary, which meant the wearing of white-and-blue 
garments or else a white-and-blue cord around the waist for a 
certain length of time. Some children wore their cords until 

Tisanne de {euilles de lauriers, a tea made from laurel leaves, was 
used for cramps and stomachache. For fever the sufferer wore a 

ij o Gumbo Ya-Y# 

pair of boots made of yellow paper covered with tallow, snuff 
and mustard. Small squares of yellow paper smeared with tal- 
low and stuck to the temples would break up a head cold. 

If a person had a cut or abrasion, someone would rush under 
the house or into some dark and dusty place and procure some 
cobwebs, which would be applied to the wound to stop the flow 
of blood. 

Sarsaparilla tea was imbibed each spring to purify the blood. 
Crushed crab and crayfish eyes were used in the treatment of cer- 
tain diseases. Water in which rusty nails had been soaked over- 
night was imbibed for anemia. Leeches were placed on the nape 
of the neck to draw blood. These can still be bought in New 

Boils and inflammation were relieved by a poultice of the 
leaves of the wild potato plant. Snake bite was cured with bal- 
sam apples soaked in whiskey. To loosen a chest cold Creoles 
swallowed tallow. 

Bags containing camphor were worn suspended from a string 
about the neck during epidemics. These were used as lately as 
the influenza outbreak following the first World War. 

Appendicitis was known among the Creoles as coUque miserere 
and was treated with a poultice of flaxseed or potato leaves. 
Copal moss was used for pains following confinement, being 
soaked in hot water with a little whiskey, and the strained 
liquid drunk while very hot. 

Plantain leaves were applied to sores, banana leaves to the 
forehead for headaches. Emetics were the first thing given any 
sick person. Plantain leaves were used also to perfume house- 
hold linens and keep insects out. 

Other things used for cure and prevention of illness included 
hair plant, button tree, fever bush, oil tree, bite of the devil, 
angel's balm and mouse's eyes. 

When gas mains filled with water and were pumped out, this 
water was, eagerly sought by the Creoles, who doused it on their 
dogs and cats. It was supposed to cure and prevent mange. 

Creoles loved to spend an evening walking on the levee, the 
girls with their ever-present chaperons, the young men in pairs 
and trios. Flirtations were extremely mild, but none the less 

The Creoles =- /// 

exciting. With great tact, with many compliments extended the 
chaperon, a gallant might even exchange a word or two with a 

As late as the early 1900*5, just before what is still known as 
'the exodus of the best people from Esplanade Avenue/ the 
front steps of many homes along that thoroughfare were scenes 
of no little calling, courting and romancing. On warm spring 
and summer evenings the young Creole girls Would sit Out on 
these steps to receive young blades who sauntered in groups from 
one house to another. The steps here were often built in a re- 
cess, assuring a quasi-privacy and allowing greater than usual 
seating capacity. Here 'sweet crackers,' Grenadine, lemonade 
and biere Creole would be served the callers, and delightful hats 
and very mild flirtations were possible. 

The young men took great care to be impartial in their visits, 
stopping at one house one evening and another the next. Should 
any youth become a very assiduous visitor he immediately be- 
came a source of interesting speculation throughout the whole 
neighborhood. Mothers boasted of the calls of a suitor on their 
daughter and discussed frankly his morals, manners, breeding, 
background and financial condition. When he started making 
engagements for the balls or cotillions, it was considered that 
romance had bloomed, and woe betide the insincere young man 
not thoroughly aware of the delicate implications attached to 
showing a Creole girl such attention without the proper and 
expected intention. 

To this day Orleanians are fond of sitting out of doors on sum- 
mer evenings. There are probably few other cities in America 
where people will place rocking chairs out on the sidewalk be- 
fore their homes, sit rocking and fanning, perhaps drinking 
lemonade or beer, forcing pedestrians to walk around them, 
while they chat and gossip, including whispered remarks about 
everyone passing. 

Creoles were fond of quiet evenings at home. There was al- 
ways music offered by some members of la famille, or perhaps 
someone would read aloud, while the ladies would busy them- 
selves with sewing and embroidering. 

Many exquisite arts, some now lost, were known to the 

1 72 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Creole woman. The making of macreme was one at which all 
girls were skilled. This was a type of weaving in which heavy 
string was woven into lace curtains and portieres. Flower- 
making was popular. These were made of wax, tinted appro- 
priate colors and put under bell glass to decorate the salons. 

Cooking was the highest of the Creole home arts. Though 
kitchen equipment was meager, the Creole woman and her 
servants created one of the finest schools of epicureanism in the 
world. Their recipes were a blend of French and Spanish dishes, 
with typical Negro skill at making a fine dish out of a little 

For years all cooking was done in a wide, open fireplace, or on 
a clay furnace. An iron pot often handed down from mother 
to daughter was highly prized by Creole women. Before a 
new one could be used it must be ' broken in.' First the pot was 
washed thoroughly, then red brick-dust rubbed in. After an- 
other washing, the inside was smeared thickly with pork fat 
and the pot placed on the fire to 'season.' Then the pot was 
ready for the cooking of the red beans and the black-eyed peas. 
These were always cooked with a thick slice of ham or salt pork. 

Even at family dinners tables literally groaned under the 
weight of the spread of food. At every large meal fish, fowl 
and flesh were all served. Occupying the center of the table 
might be a cochon de lait a milk-fed suckling pig roasted a 
golden brown. There would be a large vol-au-vent a baked 
shell filled with delicious oyster stew, a tremendous roast of 
beef and a turtle shell stuffed with turtle meat and richly sea- 
soned. Sea food was often present, the meal frequently starting 
with a crab gumbo. Wines were always served. Some families 
drank it at all three meals, the children receiving theirs diluted 
with water. Root beer, induced to ferment by the addition of 
rice, corn and sugar, was also popular. Btere douce^ unknown 
now, was made of pineapple peelings, brown sugar, cloves and 
rice. Coffee was always ground, roasted and entirely prepared at 
home. Chicory was added, to the degree to please each family's 
taste. Pepper was also bought whole and ground at home. 

Elderly Creole ladies were fond of gathering at each other's 
houses to spend the day. All the gossip would be exchanged, 

The Creoles 

family histories combed through, the actions of this person or 
that discussed. Greatest pleasure was derived from guessing who 
would be heir to a certain fortune, who married who and why, 
and what family, though they of course denied it, was undoubt- 
edly touched with cafe au lait. Dreading exposure to the ' night 
air,' the ladies would scurry home just before dusk, well sup- 
plied with gossip for a long time to come. Some of them were 
living encyclopedias of genealogy and could, on occasion, render 
family histories for generations, with a thorough knowledge of 
both the lateral and horizontal branches of the family trees. 
Such a gathering of women was known, scornfully, as a gumbo 

Nicknames were as popular among Creoles as they were among 
their poorer cousmes, the Cajuns. Roger Baudier says of this in 
Catholic Action : 

One still finds among the descendants of the Creoles the 
familiar petits noms which were used so generally in former dec- 
ades, in conversation in the family and among intimates. 
The custom of giving these short, phonetic names based on a 
person's baptismal name, however, has all but passed away, 
but Creoles still recall grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, 
uncles and cousins by these short names, in many cases being 
unable to recall them by any other designation. Tante Fefe and 
Cousine Titine are just that they are never known by any 
other names. It is difficult to explain some of these cognomens, 
as they were derived not only from some syllable of a name, 
but also from some characteristic, peculiarity, pet expression 
or some such source. Bebe, Boy, Mimi, and Bouboutsc, Cherie, 
Tounoute, Nounouse, Doudouce and Piton are examples of short 
names that almost defy tracing back. 

Petits noms like Loulou might come from Louis and Ludovic. A 
girl named Clementine or Armentine would be called Titine or 
Tine, Julo was substituted for Jules, Zebe for Eusebe or Zebulon, 
Zime for the queer name of Onesime. Girls named Eliza and 
Elizabeth would each answer to the appellation of Za%a; Adele 
and Adelaide either to Dedlle or Dedee. 

Every family included these nicknames, often, because of the 
size of Creole families, several members with the same one. 

ij4 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

There were scores of others, many of them fantastic and impos- 
sible to trace to any derivation. 

Lagniappe was always given customers in the stores during the 
Creole era, giving special pleasure to children and servants. No 
matter how small the purchase, the merchant always added a 
bit of candy, a cake or some other small item as lagniappe, mean- 
ing something extra, something for nothing. 

Webster claims that lagniappe is derived from a Spanish word, 
but there is no country where Spanish is spoken that uses such 
a term. M. Bussiere Rouen, a noted French scholar, advanced 
the theory that four or five centuries ago, in Normandy and in 
Brittany, grain like oats, wheat and barley, when sold, was 
spread on a woven cloth known in French as a nappe. When the 
seller delivered or emptied the contents of the cloth into the 
buyer's receptacle, there were always quite a few grains clinging 
to the cloth. To compensate the buyer, the seller would take 
one or two handfuls from his stock and give it to the buyer, say- 
ing this was for la nappe (the cloth). When the Bretons and 
Normans settled in Canada and then were driven out by the 
English, eventually to find homes in Louisiana and become 
known as Acadians, they kept the custom of giving a little 
something for nothing when purchases were made, saying, 
'Pour la gnaippi instead of 'Pour la nappe,' and from them the 
curious custom was passed on to the Creoles of New Orleans. 

Despite lack of ventilation, meal-time gorging and the most 
curious remedies conceivable when ill, Creoles seem often to have 
lived to incredible ages. They said of themselves, 'Creoles pas 
mourn, li desseche - - 'Creoles don't die, they dry up.' 

But on the other hand, death seems to have always been in 
evidence by the amount of mourning worn. Regarding this, it 
was said, Si un chat mourrait dans la famille> tout le monde portrait de 
deuil If a cat should die in the family, everyone would be in 
mourning. Every tante and cousine was an excuse for la famille to 
drape themselves in black. 

M. Raoul Bonnot was the popular Croque-Mort undertaker 
of the Creoles for years. M. Bonnot was quite a figure in the 
Vieux Carre, always appearing in formal gray striped trousers, 
Prince Albert, high-heeled shoes and tall silk hat. His toupee 

The Creoles 

was center-parted and combed in bangs over his forehead. His 
expression was always so gloomy that the Creoles said of him, 
sympathetically, ' // a une figure de cmonsiance. ' There must, how- 
ever, have been a certain amount of secret frivolity under 
M. Bonnet's glum exterior. It was asserted by those who knew 
that he wore ribbons on his underwear. 

When a death occurred, each post in the Creole section was 
adorned with a black-bordered poster, informing of who had 
died, the time and place of the funeral. Invitations to the events 
were issued as for social functions. All services were from the 

Until the Civil War Creole ladies never attended funerals, but 
always paid a visit of condolence within nine days of the death. 
But during the War women were compelled to take charge of 
these affairs. The first funeral attended by women in New Or- 
leans was that of Mrs. P. G. T. Beauregard, first wife of General 
Beauregard. The ladies marched in rows which extended the 
whole width of Esplanade Avenue. 

The Civil War marked the beginning of the end for this Creole 
world. Very slowly the structure of their culture crumbled. 

From the beginning of the coming of the Americans the Cre- 
oles were doomed. These Anglo-Saxons were too aggressive, 
too practical. Everywhere they rose to ascendancy, in politics, 
in business and in trade. Every year the leading places in com- 
merce, banking, planting and the professions were taken over by 
the newcomers. Unlike the Creoles, they were not ashamed to 
soil their hands. They did not have the Creole's secret contempt 
for hard work. They almost made a fetish of it. 

Even the French language began to lose popularity. For a 
long time generations were bilingual, speaking one tongue at 
home, another outside. In the new public schools Creole chil- 
dren were Americanized, eventually refused even to speak French 
because the others taunted them with the appellation of 'Kis- 
kee-dee!' when they did so. 

Through the years Creole jealousy of the Americans continued 
to be bitter. They held themselves aloof, refusing to mix with 
the strangers. But as the American city grew larger, swiftly 
passed the old town in size, it became very evident that these 

ij6- GumboYa-Ya 

'foreigners' were faring quite well without their aid. They saw 
it was a choice between acquiescence or complete commercial 
domination. In one matter, however, the Creoles remained 
the masters for many years; they set the standard for and ex- 
ercised control over everything related to social life. 

As long ago as 1892. a certain Creole gentleman, famous for his 
impeccable attire, his erect carriage, his monocle, his evening 
strolls along Esplanade Avenue, bemoaned the passing of the 
old ways of life. Each sunset he would appear on the Esplanade, 
bowing to ladies of his acquaintance with a lordly flourish, tip- 
ping his top hat to men. He constantly regaled friends with nos- 
talgic tales of the bon vieux temps, as compared to what he con- 
sidered the vulgar and parvenu customs and manners of this later 
period. He told of days when a gentleman never crossed his legs 
in a drawing-room; when a lady had no legs at all, but floated 
mysteriously on the hems of her skirts, wore steel corsets and a 
daring decollete; when a gentleman did not ask a lady's permis- 
sion to smoke no lady could refuse, and the odor of tobacco 
was obnoxious to all females ! and would have died before he 
did so in her presence; when cocktails were unknown; when gen- 
tlemen supported their dancing partners with the lightest touch 
of the back of their white-gloved hands at their waists; when to 
appear at a social affair in an intoxicated condition meant cer- 
tain and permanent ostracism, and when the telling of a risque 
joke in the presence of a woman was equivalent to inviting one's 
self to a duel. He particularly deplored the passing of dueling, 
which custom, he averred firmly, ' held down murders, preserved 
good manners, upheld the sanctity of woman and safeguarded the 
sacredness of the home!' 

But little by little the majority of the Creoles became poorer. 
Their fine homes had to go. Family records were lost or de- 
stroyed, heirlooms, precious and treasured for generations, were 
sold as desperation drove these gentle people, scarcely capable of 
earning their livelihoods, to antique dealers and the Americans. 
The past began to be a thin memory in the minds of very old 

Striving to maintain their independent culture, the Creoles 
organized a Creole Association as late as 1886. Bitterly attacked 

The Creoles 177 

by outsiders as an exclusive organization, Charles A. Villere, 
himself of a distinguished Creole family, vigorously denied this, 
saying their aim was to aid the state as a whole, to assist in the 
spread of education and the growth of the culture of all its 
peoples. In his speech at the first meeting of the Association he 
said, in part, 'We are battling for our rights; we are scoffed at, 
ridiculed, blackened, tortured, deformed, caricatured. . . . This 
is our soil/ 

But the life of the Creole Association was short. Internal dif- 
ferences ensued, and it quickly passed out of existence. 

Most of the old ways are gone now, though tangible evidences 
of the splendid past are not difficult to find. There are the old 
houses in the Vieux Carre, with balconies of wrought iron like 
fine lace and winding stairs and tinkling crystal chandeliers and 
dreamy patios. There still remains the Saint Louis Cathedral 
where Creoles knelt in prayer, with its rear garden where rapiers 
flashed in moonlight and in sunlight, until the flow of Creole 
blood appeased the tempestuous heat of Creole anger. And the 
convent in Orleans Street, where the warm laughter and gay 
music of the past has been displaced by the mystic silence of the 
religieuse. These things remain. 

There are names, some still of great social prestige, others long 
buried under poverty, their aristocratic origins almost forgotten 
by their bearers. There are words like gumbo and banquette, still 
common on Orleanians' tongues. There are Creole cabbages, 
Creole lilies and Creole horses. And a thousand other little 
things, little inbred habits, superstitions, proverbs, all . with 
derivations springing from that past that belonged to the 

In the show windows of a Royal Street antique dealer may rest 
a silken fan, yellowed now, frayed a bit, but once it accentuated 
the coquetry of a dark-eyed flirt; bits of bric-a-brac, stalwart 
shepherds and plump dairy maids with dirty china faces, old 
jewelry created to adorn Creole beauty, music boxes that still 
respond to your touch to play half-forgotten tunes, snuff boxes 
of silver and gold that once flattered the vanity of gallants. In- 
side the shop may be immense mirrors with fat cupids chasing 
each other about the gilded frames, a huge bed of solid mahogany 

with four massive posts and a ciel-dc-lit perhaps the creation 
of Monsieur Dufau before his ill-fated rum party? of pale blue 
silk, stained and faded now, but once the bridal canopy of some 
trembling Creole bride. 

It is even possible to fond a gentle lady or two of great age, 
who doesn't speak English and rarely ever journeys to Canal 
Street, less than a dozen city blocks away, who wears black 
alpaca dresses to the tips of her shiny patent leather shoes, a 
cameo brooch at her throat and her thin white hair in a forgotten 

To this patrician race New Orleans owes a debt of immeas,ur- 
able proportions; the Mardi Gras, the world-famous cuisine, the 
gaiety, the whole intricate fabric of the charm that distinguishes 
the city from any other in America. 

Chapter 9 

The Cajuns 

I am a true man, me. I got credit at Fisher's Store; I got a share in 
my boat; and I make fourteen children for my wife! 

Overheard from Cajuns' conversation 

dark eyes that glitter hotly in the Louisiana sun 'we Cajun 
are damn fool, us. Most of the time we are poor, then we catch 
lots of muskrat, sell the skin, and we are rich. Some Cajun make 
plenty money now, stay rich, but most time is not like that, no. 
We spend all our money quick. Boom! Like the big storm she 
hit the little boat, everything is gone from us. My family live 
always since two hundred years on this bayou, and always we is 

Theophile's bronzed forehead wrinkled angrily. 'One time a 
mans comes and wants me to work for him, that fool ! Paillasse! 
That is insult for me, hein? We Cajun stand always on our own 
two feets. Any mans works for 'nother mans he is low. Me, I do 
all right. I trap them big rats. I fish for the shrimps and the oys- 
ters. Marie, she has eleven childrens, all living, nine boys. We 
are still amoureux comme deux colombes, us. If a mans got him 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

shrimps and oysters for his gumbo, and his wife and him still is 
loving each other like two little sweetheart doves, what more 
he want I ask you, he in?' 

Marie waddles out of the small house, takes a seat on a log 
close to where her husband stoops over his crab net. She sighs. 
She is quite fat, especially her stomach, which stretches her 
white cotton dress until the material seems about to split. It is 
evident the Polite children will soon number an even dozen. 
But her features are good, the nose slightly arched, but thin, the 
lips, cheekbones and jawline strongly modeled. Her short hair, 
black as ink, frames a face strangely patrician for her peasant's 
body. Many Cajun women are like that. Her hands are small, 
her naked feet, the toes digging into the dust, delicately shaped. 

'She is worried for Ovide,' Theophile explains her silence. 
'He is the oldest boy we have from us. All the childrens we 
name with O, 'cause Polite she is named with P, and O she comes 
from before P, hein? We call them Ovide, Oristes, Olive, Onesia, 
Otheo, Odalia, Octave, Olite, Oristide, Odelee and Odeson.' He 
flipped a black-nailed thumb at Marie's middle. 'He is gon' be 
called by Odeo or Odea, if she's boy or girl.' 

He rose, brushed his hands on his pants. ' Me, I forget myself. 
Wait, I get you some coffee.' 

Marie had taken some peach seeds out of a paper bag and was 
pounding them to bits on a rock, using another rock as a ham- 
mer. They were to 'settle the water.' If bayou water must be 
used for drinking, Cajuns put crushed peach seeds on the bottom 
of a pail of it and all dirt is drawn to the bottom, leaving the top 
clean and purified. 

'Ovide gives us help, him.' Marie looked up, her dark eyes 
distressed. ' He make two, three dollar for his crabs. Sometime 
he get a hot head and drink up all his money, but most time he 
give it all to me. He use good way to catch them crab. Is real 
Cajun way to do them, yes. He go out on bayou with big line 
what has little lines tied on it, maybe every two feets. He tie 
one end of that big line to a tree, then he row his pirogue down 
the bayou and tie up other end to 'nother tree, good. All the 
little lines is hanging down and the crabs they bite them. Then 
my Ovide he pull big line up from water and he catch them. 

The Cajuns 181 

That is fine way, hein? He's got good brains in his head. But 
now he catched himself the woman sickness and is gone to the 
city to get cured.' 

She sighed, rolling her fine eyes around, and went on to an- 
other of her troubles. 'My daughter, she is Onesia, is married 
twice as old as herself to a man. I don't like that, no. He is 
named Ulysse Boudreaux, is thirty-two years old. Onesia, she is 
sixteen. She is one fine cook. Can make better gumbo than me, 

She raised her brows proudly. ' When Theophile and me get 
ourselves married to each other, he is eighteen and me, I am 
fifteen. That is right, hein? This Ulysse Boudreaux is almost 
old mans as me; I am thirty-five. All the time I tell him he is 
better for me, if there is no Theophile, Holy Mother, may such a 
thing never be!, than for Onesia. But when I ask the priest at 
time he marry them, the priest he say hokay, so I guess is hokay . 
That Ulysse have four children and two twins from his first wife 
- was Celeste Thibodeaux before they was married with each 
other. She died two years ago like from last Christmas. Ulysse 
is fine trapper, though.' 

Marie's Cajun humor came to the fore at last. She winked one 
limpid eye, revealed two flashy gold teeth in a wide smile. 

'I just don't believe it's no fun being married twice as old as 
yourself to a mans,' she said. 

These are Acadians of today, but they might be Longfellow's 
famed lovers, Evangeline and her Gabriel. There has been little 
change these two centuries. If the course of true love had run 
smoothly, that tragic pair might have lived out their lives to- 
gether much as Theophile and Marie Polite. 

There are contemporary counterparts of the expulsion of these 
people from Nova Scotia by the British. Refugees still flee from 
intolerance, are still banished from their homelands because it is 
expedient to their rulers that they be so treated. But there is no 
recent case more tragic than the brutal uprooting of these Aca- 
dians, none more filled with misery than the long wanderings of 
these homeless fifty thousand. Today travel is swift. Liners can 
carry the expatriated to new continents in a few days. The Aca- 
dians straggled southward, on foot, in small boats, for three 

182 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Yet here in what Longfellow calls 'the Eden of Louisiana,' 
along the picturesque, winding bayous, they found a new home. 
And here they remain, four hundred thousand of them, for they 
are extremely prolific and twenty children in a single family is 
not unusual. One old lady counted eight hundred lineal descend- 
ants, all blood relatives. 

Many still live in rude shacks, weave their own cloth, con- 
tinue to cling to a chronic aversion to wearing shoes. Until 
recently many of them had never journeyed twenty miles from 
their homes, many of the women had never traveled five. Today 
some have automobiles of a sort. 

But automobiles have not entirely supplanted the buggy in 
southwestern Louisiana. Many of these antique vehicles are still 
in use, and they are not all of ancient vintage, either. Many are 
brand new and glossy black. For buggies are still manufactured 
for these bayou folk, and more are in use in Louisiana than in any 
other locality in the United States of today. Every Sunday 
morning it is possible to see many of them filled with families, all 
dressed up in starched white apparel, bare feet scrubbed clean, 
on the way to Mass. 

These bayou Cajuns are usually poor, though some are making 
money today. As fishermen they are eminently successful; the 
heritage of their Norman and Breton ancestry is not wasted. 
The great shrimping, crabbing and oyster-fishing industries of 
Louisiana are entirely in their hands. They are the world's finest 

Their language, entirely spoken few can read or write in 
French has been held in contempt by many people as a crude 
patois, though some authorities insist it is pure seventeenth- 
century French. Until the first World War relatively few spoke 
English at all. And those who speak it today have a humorous, 
if expressive, jargon of their own. In many ways this is not 
really a dialect, but a literal translation from French, such as, 
'He live in that house which is white, him.' The last pronoun 
being repeated to impress you with who it is living in 'that 
house which is white.' Sentences frequently terminate with an 
interrogative 'Yes?' or 'No?' or 'Hein?' as if desiring your assur- 
ance that the speaker is correct in his opinion and that you agree. 

A Cajun oysterman of Barataria with his oyster tongs 
Courtesy of Jefferson Parish Review 


A Cajun fisherman's family in their bayou home 
Courtesy of Lee, Farm Security Administration 

Cajun girls of the Bayou Country 
Courtesy of Shahn, Farm Security Administration 




An old Cajun woman hangs garlic from the rafters 
Courtesy of Lee, Farm Security Administration 

Shrimp Fleet waiting to be blessed, Little Bayou Caillou 

The Archbishop on the way to bless the Shrimp Fleet 
Courtesy of New Orleans Times-Picayune , 

The Cajuns 18 $ 

Pronouns are scattered here and there, liberally. Usually in the 
wrong places. The Cajun's hands, shoulders and eyes, which are 
all put into play when he launches into a conversation, are really 
almost as much organs of speech as his tongue. And when he 
cannot remember an English word or phrase he shoves in a 
French one, lapses right back into English and goes on from 
there, always speaking rapidly, betraying his impatient and 
nervous nature. 

Listen to Placide discouraging Papite's ambition to travel to 
Chicago. Papite had heard about this Chicago somewhere, and 
though he knew nothing of geography, had probably never seen 
a map, his desire to view the wonders of that metropolis was the 
constant topic of his conversation. Placide, tiring of this and 
really afraid he might lose his good friend Papite, put it this 

'Papite, for why hell you want to go to She-cow-go, you? 
Look at the sun. See how she shine, on the bayou, he in? If you 
was in She-cow-go you would not see sun like those, no. In She- 
cow-go when the sun come up, the smoke from Pittsburgh he 
pass all over She-cow-go and keep the sun from shining on all 
those poor peoples. Now, Papite, you don't want to go no place 
where there ain't no sun, no?' 

Education is seeping into even the most remote bayou settle- 
ments now, and Cajun children attend school at least for a 
few years. But for the most part this alters life but little. Cajun 
boys learn to fish and hunt and trap almost from infancy; it is 
only the rare individual who for a moment dreams of entering 
any other profession. They marry young, often before they are 
twenty, and are at that age quite as adept at earning a living in 
these occupations as their fathers. Their brides are usually dark- 
eyed children of fourteen or fifteen, but already equally as skilled 
at the tasks necessary to a good cook and housekeeper. The tiny 
houses in which they live, in many instances two-room shacks, 
are clean and orderly, the floors scrubbed white, the kitchen 
utensils polished. And Cajun cooking, especially in .the prepara- 
tion of sea foods, may rival that of any famous city chef. Mar- 
riages last for life, and morals, as a whole, are relatively good 
among them. 

i$4 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

A Cajun woman's life is of course a failure should she not cap- 
ture a mate, and this dreadful prospect causes her much worry. 
The Cajun old maid is so rare as to be the object of both scorn and 
pity. From the time she is- about fourteen her family begin to 
nag her about getting herself a husband. Each night many 
Cajun girls examine their heels for any tinge of yellow, for such 
a sign is a certain portent of spinsterhood. Xante Xherese 
herself a horrible example will remember mournfully that at 
the age of seventeen the fatal yellow tinge appeared on her own 
heels, and here she is, well into her thirties, and of course with- 
out hope, since no man along the bayous wants such an old 
woman. Xante Xherese reports that eighteen is just about the 
latest a girl may have hope of marrying. 

But, says Xante Xherese, there are many ways of rendering a 
man susceptible, though they didn't work in her case. Powder 
made from a green lizard dried in the sun, when thrown upon 
the object of a girl's desire, makes him her victim. Or she might 
ask him to dinner and put the scrapings from the four corners of 
the dinner table into his coffee. She may also put parings from 
her fingernails into his pockets, or write him a letter in her own 
blood. For an immediate proposal, she should tie a rooster under 
her porch, seat the man in a rocking chair right over the fowl, 
sit beside him, and wait. He can't help but fall in love with her 

However, even should all this fail, there is still poudre de Per- 
lainpainpain. Xhis takes time and patience, but is worth it. Xhe 
young girl must catch seventeen floating seeds blown from a 
thistle on a windy day. Xhe down is removed from the seeds, 
then the seeds are rubbed over the honey sac of a bee, caught on a 
clover blossom leaning in a northerly direction. Xhis must be 
carefully mixed with three white beans buried for three days pre- 
viously under a mound of table salt, then added to a portion of 
salt measured in a black thimble. Now she really has some- 
thing. Poudre de Perlainpainfain rubbed into any article of the 
clothing of her lover makes him hers forever and all time. 

Charivaris are still popular at Cajun marriages, especially at 
that of widows to single men, or widowers to single women. 
Xhe marriage of Ulysse Boudreaux to Onesia Polite might have 

The Cajuns 18 / 

been celebrated in this manner, if they were well liked in their 
community, for a charivari is an expression of affection and ap- 
proval. A Cajun described the custom this way. 

'Charivari? Sure, M'sieu. I been to plenty, me. It's given a 
womans what's been married and her husband is dead, or to a 
mans when he marries for the second time. These is only given to 
peoples you like and you have respect for. You go with pots 
and pans and make noises all day long and maybe all night long 
on the outside from their door. They got to come out and prom- 
ise you something, yes, like icecream and cake or wine. If they 
don't do this you never stop making noise, no. Or you decide 
they ain't no good to bother with, and they get no more chari- 
vari if they get themselves married five or seven times! That's 
right, hein?' 

Cajun weddings are sometimes grand affairs. Mrs. Joe Gif- 
fault described her first one in all its glamorous detail, as soon as 
Mr. GifFault, her second husband, left the room. 

'I didn't want to talk about my first wedding before him,' she 
explained. 'I don't think that's right, me. But I sure had some 
wedding the first time, God, it was beautiful ! Me, I got myself 
married young; I was not made sixteen, no. We was two pairs 
getting married together, and each of us girls had seven friends 
with us and each of the mans had seven. There was fourteen 
peoples on each side, fourteen pairs of them. We got us married 
in church and everybody was there except my mamma. And she 
had a good reason. You see, my mamma always wore a sun- 
bonnet and didn't never have herself no hat. I tell her to get her- 
self a hat, but she say she ain't gon' buy no hat just for that one 
occasion, so she stay home. She didn't believe in nothing like 
that, no. 

'After the wedding there was a big barge waiting on the 
bayou. Everybody danced on the barge all the way back to the 
house, and when they got to the house they danced all night. It 
was fine. Me, I had the best time I ever knowed. I always likes 
to promenade myself like that, me. And food! We had every- 
thing anybody wanted, us. One of my aunts made that cake. I 
ain't never seen a wedding like that, me. We dressed ourselves 
just like brides, yes. And we carried paper flowers what a Cajun 

j 8 6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

lady made for us. They was red and blue and yellow and purple. 
They sure was pretty. The party and the eating and the dancing 
lasted all night and all the next day. That's for true! 

'No, we didn't go on no trip.' Mrs. GifFault laughed at that 
idea. 'How could we do that, hein? I had me plenty work the 
morning after the wedding. My husband had him a fine chicken 
yard, and I had all them eggs to pick up and a cow to milk and 
I had to cook him his breakfast.' 

At the reappearance of Mr. GifFault his wife ceased talking. 

'Clementine is my second wife,' he said. 'My wife that die is 
mother for my first twelve childrens. Clementine is got four 
childrens from her first husband and we got us three more 
together. ' 

'My name ain't Clementine,' interrupted Mrs. GifFault. 'It is 

' Hokay ! Hokay !' said Mr. GifFault impatiently. ' If you want 
to be called by that it's all right with me.' 

'Non!' said Mrs. GifFault emphatically. 'My name she is Ar- 
mentine ! That is what my mamma called me by and that is my 

'Well, that's the first time I ever know that,' said Mr. Gif- 
fault. And in explanation : ' Me, I don't worry what her name is. 
I never call her nothing. Everybody call her Miz Joe since she 
married with me, anyway.' 

'Before that,' said Mrs. GifFault, 'they call me Miz Alex, 
'cause my first husband he was named Mr. Alex Thibodeaux. 
Lots of peoples calls married womans by their husband's first 
names. They got plenty Cajun lady called Miz Joe, Miz Papite, 
or Miz Henri. Me, most times I calls myself Miz Joe. Nobody 
ever calls me Miz GifFault, no/ 

Still in use along the bayous, relics of the days when everyone 
spoke French, are various picturesque expressions. Common are 
ones used to describe a person of great age. 

Any resident of the Bayou LaFourche section will understand 
you immediately if you say a man is vieux comme les chemins, for a 
man as old as the highways would indeed be old. 

In Golden Meadow there is a term which has become almost a 
local proverb: Vieux comme le billet a M'sieu Etienne. M'sieu 

The Cajuns 187 

Etienne is seventy-five-year-old Etienne St. Pierre, and his billet is 
a piece of paper money, once worth twenty-five cents, though 
long out of currency, that has been in his possession for sixty 
years. It is the first money he ever earned, and he has always 
kept it. That's why folk in Golden Meadow have coined the 
saying: as old as Mr. fitienne's bill. 
Rosalee Barrosse remembered her Tante Bebe well. 
'We is all live for be good old age in our family,' Rosalee 
boasted. 'Tante Bebe live for be one hundred and seex; that is 
long time for this world, hein? She was real French, was opera 
singer in Paris, but she come live with us when she get old and 
just sing for us keeds. She all time sing and laugh till time she 
die. She use make us keeds laugh funny way she speak English 
after live in Paris so long. Sure was funny way she had, her. 
When we laugh she don't get mad, though. She just say, "You 
laugh for way I say thing in English, hein? Well, I can't do no 
different and if that make you happy, you laugh." You know 
when she want for say English word she gonna say it even if she 
bust, her. Out, Monsieur, she get raid in face sometime trying to 
say one English word. All the time she make up funny song. 
You know when they take them sheeps to the slaughterhouse 
how sad it is? Them poor little sheeps they got tears in their 
little eyes and they cry "Baa Baa!" all the way. Sure, they 
know where they go, them. Well Tante Bebe she make up song 
like this: 

Mouton, lAouton est ou ton vasl 

A la Abb atom. 

Quand tu reviens! j g 

Jamais - Baa! 

In English that mean: 

Sheep, sheep where are you going? 
To the slaughterhouse. 
When will you return? 
Never Baa ! 

'Once we had little cousin we call Tee Sharle, that mean Lil' 
Charles. He was kind of sickly. Tante Bebe she gave him a little 
raid wagon, and he crazy 'bout it, play weeth it all time. Then 

1 88 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Tee Sharle die in convulsion. Poor Tee Sharle was put in little 
white coffin and taken away to graveyard. Poor Tante Bebe she 
stand on her front porch when the funeral pass and after it is gone 
by her house she cry hard and she say over and over again, 
" Paume Tee Sharle! Jamais I see him again ! Jamais I see his little 
raid wagon!" Then she take one hand down from before her 
eyes and she wave, all time crying, ' ' Adieu! Adieu! Adieu, pauvre 
Tee Sharle!" But all the time she wave in wrong direction. I say 
to her, "Tante Bebe, the funeral go other way. She is go other 
way you wave your hand." She stop sudden-like and she say, 
"Hein?" I tell her again, "The funeral go in other way." "O 
mats out!" she say. Then she turn 'round and wave her hand in 
right way and start say all over again, "Pauvre Tee Sharle! 
Jamais I see him again! Jamais I see his little raid wagon! 
Jamais! Jamais!" 

Curious names are popular along the bayous. Some that graced 
heroic characters of Greece are hereditary among the Cajuns. 
Hundreds of males titled Achille, Ulysse, Alcide and Telemaque 
now row pirogues through the Louisiana waterways. There is a 
penchant for nicknames. Even animals have them. Every cat is 
'Minou,' and every child is given some diminutive of his name. 
It is perfectly safe to say that no group of Cajuns ever assembled 
without a Doucette, a Bebe, a Bootsy or a Tooti among them. 
At one school a family of seven children, named Therese, Marie, 
Odette, Lionel, Sebastian, Raoul, and Laurie, were known even 
to their teachers as Ti-ti, Rie, Dette, Tank, Bos, Mannie and 
La-la. It is said every Cajun family has a member known as 
'Coon.' Other families, like the Polites, give their offspring 
names that all start with the same letter. An ' E' family might 
be, respectively, Ernest, Eugenie, Euphemie, Enzie, Earl, Elfert, 
Eulalie and Eupholyte. 

However, there are comparatively few family names. There 
are literally thousands of Landrys, Broussards, Leblancs, Bour- 
geoises and Breauxs, these being the largest families of Acadian 
descent in the state. 

The Cajun has great reverence and affection for family ties, and 
this extends to the utmost limits of relationship. Among no 
people is respect for their elders more sincere, and nanaine (god- 

The Cajuns i8g 

mother), parrain (godfather) and numerous tantcs (aunts) and 
cousines are held in high regard, to be upheld against outsiders at 
all times, to be taken into the family and supported for life if the 
need arise. Distant connections still reside in Nova Scotia, and 
more prosperous groups of Cajuns make pilgrimages there, and 
Nova Scotians journey to Louisiana to visit the Evangeline Oak 
at St. Martin ville and to kneel at the grave of Emmaline Labiche, 
original of the heroine of Longfellow's poem, where a light is 
kept burning. 

Death receives even more than usual respect among these 
people. Widows drape themselves in black veils for a year, wear 
black without the veil for another, and black and white the next 
year or two. Men wear crepe arm bands, and children are often 
put into mourning at tender ages. So large are some Cajun fam- 
ilies that there seems always to be evidence of death among them. 

Cajun widows sometimes soon recover from their grief, how- 
ever. A stranger paying a visit of condolence to one was in- 
formed by the bereaved's sister-in-law, ' Oh, you ought to see her 
already! She is all frisce and rougie. Every time she see a man 
she roll her eyes, toute gougou!' 

Of first importance in their lives is religion. They are, almost 
without exception, Roman Catholic, and the parish priest is an 
important personage. Catholicism is responsible for some of the 
most colorful customs. 

Perhaps the best known of these is the annual blessing of the 
shrimp fleet. For this ceremony, which takes place each August, 
the Archbishop from New Orleans goes into the bayou country 
to bless the boats and trawlers for the opening of the shrimp sea- 
son. Rites are held at Bayou Petit Caillou, Bayou Grand Caillou, 
Bayou Barataria and Golden Meadow. These pious people 
would not begin the season without having their boats blessed. 

Fifteen hundred Cajuns gathered at Mass and Holy Com- 
munion at Bayou Petit Caillou in 1939, the morning the blessing 
was to take place. Immediately after Mass, the procession, 
headed by three altar boys, then the Archbishop, gorgeous in a 
rich golden cope flowing from his shoulders almost to the 
ground, in towering golden miter and golden crozier, followed 
by visiting bishops and at least twenty-five priests, walked to the 

i go - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

platform over the bayou where the ceremonies were to take 
place. His Eminence first blessed the boats collectively, the 
choir singing lustily as, one by one, the boats were unloosened. 
Some boats carried as many as ten people, men, women and chil- 
dren, all attired in their best Sunday clothes, and every boat was 
freshly painted and gaily bedecked with brilliantly colored flags 
and pennants. 

Atop the cabin of one boat perched a two-hundred-pound 
woman, breathlessly fanning herself with a palmetto fan and 
looking acutely uncomfortable. In all probability this was the 
first time she had worn a corset since last year. The corset and 
her pink Mother Hubbard were her only concessions to the oc- 
casion, however. One of the spectators pointed at her and called 
out, ' Regarde Naomie in her bare feets!' 

As the boats approached the Archbishop everyone knelt and 
made the sign of the cross. Someone became worried that the 
Archbishop would not have enough holy water, and cried, 
'There ain't enough holy water in that thing to bless all them 
boats, no.' 

These boats go out as far as forty miles in the Gulf and return 
about every fifteen days to refuel. The freight and ice boats 
make daily rounds to pick up the catch and bring it to the fac- 
tories. Approximately fifty thousand of these Cajuns are em- 
ployed in the Louisiana shrimp industry. 

Another impressive Catholic rite takes place on All Saints' 
Day, November i . Priests gather at dusk in the cemeteries of the 
Cajun parishes to offer Masses for the souls of the dead, hundreds 
of blessed candles being lighted on graves, filling the advancing 
darkness with weird flickering lights and eerie shadows. 

Cajuns celebrate not only the American Christmas, but Le 
Bonhomme Janvier on New Year's Eve, at which time the children 
receive candy, fruit and fireworks, and nanaines, -parrains, tantes 
and other relatives visit branches of the family, exchanging gifts 
and .greetings. Besides, there are many religious holidays in the 
Cajuns' calendar, each with its peculiar customs. 

Intermingled with this passionate Catholicity is much super- 
stition of an entirely primitive type. There are even werewolves 
in Louisiana! Here they are known as loup-garous ; and are the 

The Cajuns 

most dreaded and feared of all the haunts of the bayouland. Ac- 
counts of lycanthropy are rare in America, but Cajun children are 
constantly warned, ' The loup-garous will get you, yes! You better 
be good.' And many of the children's elders believe emphati- 
cally in the existence of these horrible wolf-things. 

There are many loup-garous, some, people under a spell, and 
others enjoying self-imposed enchantment. A Cajun will ex- 
plain: ' Loup-garous is them people what wants to do bad work, 
and changes themselves into wolves. They got plenty of them, 
yes. And you sure know them when you see them. They got big 
red eyes, pointed noses and everything just like a wolf has, even 
hair all over, and long pointed nails. They rub themselves with 
some voodoo grease and come out just like wolves is. You keep 
away you see any of them things, hein? They make you one of 
them, yes, quick like hell. They hold balls on Bayou Goula all 
the time, mens and womens, both together. They dance and 
carry on just like animals, them. If you see one, you just get 
yourself one nice frog and throw him at them things. They sure 
gon' run then. They scared of frogs. That's the only way to 
chase a loup-garou away from you. Bullets go right through him. ' 

Loup-garous have bats as big as airplanes to carry them where 
they want to go. They make these bats drop them down your 
chimney, and they stand by your bed and say, ' I got you now, 
me!' Then they bite you and suck your blood and that makes 
you a loup-garou, and soon you find yourself dancing at their balls 
at Bayou Goula and carrying on just as they do. You're a lost 

' Is a good idea to hang a new sifter outside from your house, 
yes. Then they got to stop and count every hole in that sifter, 
and you catch them and sprinkle them with salt. That sets them 
on fire and they step out of them shaggy old skins and runs away. 
But, me, I don't fool 'round with no loup-garous!' 

Some loup-garous change themselves into mules and work their 
own land, a power which must have certain and definite eco- 
nomic advantages. 

The letiche is the soul of an unbaptized infant who haunts 
small children in their beds at night, a wandering, restless young 
spirit for whom there is no peace. Down in Terrebonne Parish 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

the children talk as familiarly of mermaids as if they were their 
daily companions. And the age-old tale of the sirens, whose 
sweet music attracts men and costs them their souls, is as alive 
among the Cajun fishermen today as ever it was in Ancient 

Belief in the Evil One is very strong. Woe to him who is so 
unfortunate as to be caught in his snares. And the Devil uses 
many a subtle wile in securing his victims. Even the most inno- 
cent appearing or beautiful things may be traps set by His 
Satanic Majesty. 

'You be careful, Noonie!' will warn a mother as her daughter 
departs for school. ' You keep your feets on the road, yes. Don't 
you go wandering off after a flower or nothing. I know you, me. 
You is bete comme un chou, but plenty a foolish cabbage been 
caught by that Evil One. You walk straight to your school- 
house and don't pay no mind to nothing else, hein?' 

And Noonie will walk very fast down the road winding with 
the bayou, looking neither to right nor left, her bare feet kicking 
up the dust. Hasn't she heard that story about the Cajun lady 
who almost got herself caught by the Evil One just because she 
went into the woods to pick a flower? 

This lady was in a strange and fearful condition for a Cajun 
lady. She had been married for years and as yet she had never 
had a baby! Her husband was disgusted, too. All he did was 
talk about what a fine son he would have, how much he would 
fight and drink and have all the women chasing him, because he 
would be one fine lover like his father. He would always say, 
too, ' My son, when he grow up would be best damn hunter in 
whole bayou country and Unite' States, him!' And this poor 
woman would brood about it all the time. 'Every day she 
watch herself close and sometimes she say, "Now I'm gon' have 
this bebe for Alcide!" But always she is fooled herself. Nothing 
ever happen.' She lived in church all day, praying to the Virgin 
Mary, but nothing occurred. 

Then one day she was walking along a road and she spied a 
beautiful flower. She picked it. Then she saw another and 
another. She began to gather a bouquet of them and each one 
led her deeper into the woods. Suddenly she spied something 

The Cajum 

white under a tree, and instantly she dropped her flowers and ran 
toward it. It was a handsome little baby boy, and when she 
reached and lifted him in her arms he laughed and gurgled in a 
way that went straight to her heart. ' His cruel mother has left 
him here to die,' she told herself. 'Maybe the Virgin has an- 
swered my prayers and sent me to find him. I will take him 
home, yes, he will be a son for Alcide.' 

Then, the child in her arms, she hastened out of the woods, but 
as she neared the road she remembered she had not thanked the 
Virgin for this son. So, spreading her shawl for the baby to lie 
on, she knelt to pray. But when she did this the baby began to 
yell and he shrieked louder and louder, almost as if he didn't like 
her prayers. 'So she told the Virgin she got to wait until she 
gets home, her. Then she'll pray some more.' 

Then she started to pick the baby up ... ' and when she seen 
him her heart she turned like ice inside her, yes. 'Cause that 
baby wasn't no pink-and-white baby like before, no, but a thing 
what was all black and shiny and ugly. And that black thing 
began to grow and get bigger and bigger every minute. That 
womans got so scared she almost died, her! All she could think 
to do was to make the sign of the cross quick. And she done 
found herself the right thing, too, 'cause the Devil he didn't like 
that; when he seen that sign of the cross, he let loose a yell like 
somebody hit him and he run off into them woods and that 
Cajun lady don't see him no more, never!' 

That's why Noonie isn't picking any flowers. She wouldn't 
even look at them, her. 

After the birth of a child the backbone of a shark must be se- 
cured and kept in readiness for his teething period. The dog 
shark is noted for the large number of its sharp, strong teeth, and 
it is believed that to string eight of the fish's vertebrae for the 
child to wear about its throat will result in a transfer of the 
quality of the dog shark's teeth to the infant. 

From a small child's breast there is often a sticky exudation 
called witches' milk by the Cajuns. Children who become cross 
and fretful are believed victims of an evil witch, who comes 
nightly to suckle at their breasts. A broom placed across the 
threshold of the door will prevent this. No witch will step over 
a broom. 

1 94 ~ Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Until very recently doctors were almost unknown among the 
Cajuns. Only good roads and the extensive use of automobiles 
brought them. Besides, the general poverty of the Cajuns had 
offered no inducement for medical men to settle among them. 
In all communities certain people, usually old women, came to 
be looked on as their equivalents. Many strange remedies be- 
came popular and these cures are by no means extinct today. In 
some places doctors are still viewed with suspicion, and their 
prescriptions if used at all are secretly accompanied by the ones 
of the past eras. 

'I know some of them old things, me,' Marie Polite would 
probably tell you, despite the fact that her Ovide had to go to 
the city to obtain treatment for his 'woman sickness.' 'Them 
old things is the best, you bet. Si fas des douleurs ou des mals, take 
pepper grass and bathe yourself all over with it. All your pains 
and aches gon' go away then. Fill yourself a tub with hot, hot 
water, put in a handful of that grass and soak good. It sure 
makes your bones feel nice. You ought to take a prickly pear and 
peel him like a potato and soak him in water and drink that. 
That good for you all over your inside, yes. When your blood is 
hot it sure make him cool for you. You know the flower what 
the elderberry tree makes is good for measles, hein? And you 
take the first bark off the elderberry tree, then scrape the second 
bark good and make yourself some tea with that. There ain't 
nothing better than that elderberry tea, no/ 

Babies are fed tea made of earth from a mud dauber's nest to 
strengthen them; children are made to sleep on mattresses of 
moss gathered from the cypress tree. The strength of that tree 
goes into the moss and right into them, making them very 

Rheumatism is treated with fly blister, an ointment made by 
mashing lightning bugs which have been soaked in alcohol. The 
thick leaves of the prickly pear, boiled down with plenty of 
sugar, are the best cure in the Cajun world for whooping cough. 
Sunstroke is treated with a brew made by boiling the sticky 
young branches of willow trees. Those suffering with kidney 
disorders receive tea made from the swamp lily. Athlete's foot 
is bathed with a liquid of boiled pecan leaves with a pinch of 
cooking soda. 

The Cajuns 

A person tormented with asthma should wear a muskrat skin 
over his lungs. If a snake bites you race him to the water. If you 
beat him there and dip in the wound, he will die instead of you. 
Soap mixed with the yellow of an egg and sugar will cure a boil, 
as will an ointment of lard and charcoal. For chills and fever go 
toward the bed as if to get into it, but get under it instead. 

Most Cajuns sleep with their houses tightly scaled, no matter 
how hot the night. This is not only for fear of the louf-garous, 
but also because the 'night air' is deadly and hlled with germs. 

You can always tell whether a woman's labor pains will be 
severe or not from the way in which the steam rises from her 
kettle the day she is to give birth to her child. An expectant 
mother must not let anyone comb her hair or sweep under the 
bed during the time she is confined, else she will have trouble 
having her baby. 

Common bayou belief holds that mothers must not comb their 
infants' hair until they are nine days old. It is darkly hinted 
that all bald men owe their bare pates to ignorance of this fact. 
No child should have his hair cut until he has passed his first 
year. Even then the operation must be performed during a full 
moon; if done while the moon is fading to a thin sliver the baby's 
crop will fade accordingly. Neither must fingernails be cut until 
le jeune enfant is past that first year, violation of this taboo being 
considered very serious, though no one knows exactly what 
might happen. Mirrors must be kept away from the infant; it 
would not do for him to develop vanity when so young! He 
must never be allowed to see anyone who is extremely ugly; he 
must always wear white; and he must never be taken to a funeral 
or to a cemetery. Raising a babe on the bayous presents even 
more problems than in other places. 

Once there was a man and a woman who were just married. 
The man had a Bible, and the woman said, 'I'd rather have the 
Devil in my house than any Bible.' Before long she had a child 
and it had horns on its head. And, of course, if the mother is 
frightened by an animal while carrying the child, the infant will 
certainly be marked in some way, maybe resembling the animal 
when born. 

There are many superstitions besides the medical ones. Marie 

i 9 6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Polite can tell you about them. ' When you find out you forgot 
something and got to go back to the house, before you go back 
there, you be sure to make a cross mark right on the spot where 
you turned around, yes. And when you come back you rub that 
cross mark out, or bad luck she gon' sure follow you, her. If you 
go out on picnic and she is rain hard, go out in yard and make 
cross with two sticks and put some salt on top that cross. That 
sure stop rain! That what us Cajuns call gris-gris. 

'Be sure on New Year's Day you cook some cabbage, even if 
nobody she don't eat him. You won't have to worry about food 
all the next year, no. M'sieu, that is for true! Me, I don't be- 
lieve if black cat walk front from you that be bad luck. I think 
is good luck. But plenty Cajuns believe other ways. If you see 
spider in room, don't you kill him, no. That very bad for your 
luck. But if you hear cricket sing by your house ah! that 
she is fine for you. You gon' have best luck all year, yes. Turn 
up your collar when you is under the full moon and you is get 
yourself all the fine clothes you want for the whole year. 'Course 
you know about open embrella in your house is very worse thing 
you can do; and that bride on her wedding day must have some- 
thing old, something new and something she borrows from a 
good neighbor and something blue. Those not Cajun only, no. 
Everybody in the whole Unite' State' believe in them, hein?' 

You must spit on your bait before you throw it in the water if 
you hope for a good catch. If you burn your finger striking a 
match, put the burnt match behind your ear, as the heat of the 
match will draw the pain from your finger. Always leave one 
end of a loaf of bread until last. If you eat both ends before the 
middle, then you'll have trouble making ends meet in your life. 
And if a neighbor asks you to sell him a pig, or cow or any other 
animal, you had better do it, because if you don't the animal will 

' One thing you must not do,' said Marie, ' is to take down cur- 
tains from your doors and windows to wash in month of August. 
That is very bad thing, yes. For sure as you hang curtain back in 
month of August, so sure is you gon' hang crepe on your door. 
And I tell you something else bad, me. You must never lay your 
bread on table on his backside. Always lay bread on his belly 

The Cajuns 

side. Don't never kill no spider. That is bad luck for long time. 
Is worse than breakin' lookin' glass, that. If you just bust up 
spider web, that means is gon' rain before day is through. If you 
put your drawers on wrong side out by mistake like, you is got 
to spit on them before you change. If you spit like that you have 
good luck. all day long.' 

If an alligator crawls under your house it is a portent of death. 
If a woman is infidele to her husband just before doing her baking, 
the bread will not rise. This evidence has caused many a husband 
to beat his wife when her bread failed. If a designing woman 
can sew hair combings of the man she desires in her mattress, the 
rest is easy. 

Old Monsieur Rigaud, a descendant of one of Lafitte's lieuten- 
ants, for whom Bayou Rigaud was named, offered the details of 
a sure-fire gris-gris, absolutely guaranteed to evict an unwanted 
neighbor. You take a piece of red flannel, twelve inches by 
twenty-four inches, and at each corner sew the foot of a baby 
duckling. On the right end sew a dried lizard and on the left sew 
a dried frog. Place this on your neighbor's doorstep, sprinkle 
sulphur in the center in the shape of a cross. When the man sees 
that, you can bet he'll move. The only antidote he can use is to 
throw the gris-gris into the closest stream and let the current 
carry the bad luck where it will. Dried frogs are always es- 
pecially bad; one placed on your doorstep will bring tragedy to 
the home, particularly if it has been put in a black coffin. 

The Cajun is usually healthy, lusty and red-blooded. He likes 
a good time better than anything in the world and always has a 
bit more enthusiasm for his play than for work. Balls .and 
dances, usually given on a Saturday night, are beloved and never 
fail to attract everyone who can get there. 

Typical is the all-night dance known as a fais-do-do, the name 
being a corruption of fete de Dieu or Festival of God. All the 
family attend a fais-do-do, the old, the young, nanaines, parrains 
and old maid tantcs. There is even a room set aside, known as the 
pare aux pe fits, wherein you can actually 'park' the babies. But 
the fais-do-do is extremely exclusive so far as the outside world is 
concerned, the exclusiveness often being enforced with the point 
of a knife, or with a gun. 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Married women seldom dance at a jais-do-do, no matter how- 
young they may be. Most Cajun men believe it improper for 
their women to dance, and these wives, sometimes fifteen or 
sixteen years old, must sit on benches lining the walls, gazing 
wistfully at their husbands and the single girls and men enjoying 

King and Queen dances, a type of modernized cotillion, are 
still immensely popular. A boy and girl must be chosen who are 
' King' and ' Queen' for the evening, and riots often result because 
of these chosen two. 

An inhabitant of one village described another type of dance. 

' You ought to see them Yankee dances. Some people call them 
Variety dances. They is the same things. A crowd gets together 
and forms sets with a leading couple in the middle from the floor. 
Then they dance by commandment, like. They call what dance 
is to be danced and you dance that dance until they change. They 
do the polka, mazurka and two-step dances, all the real popular 
dances what is danced in North Unite' State', yes!' 

The Mardi Gras, so elaborately celebrated in New Orleans, has 
festive echoes in the bayou country. Those who have automo- 
biles decorate their cars and nearly all don costumes of one sort 
or another. 

Peculiarly Cajun is the Mardi Gras custom of begging for 
small coins and for chickens to make gumbo on that day. A 
group of gay maskers will approach a house, mount to the front 
porch, and be invited in by Madame, who serves the traditional 
refreshments of tac-tac (popcorn), beignets (doughnuts) and ga- 
teaus (tea cakes). They chat for a while, then, with a ' Bicn 
merct and one more chicken added to their sack, depart. 

The women make their gumbo outdoors, fry some of the 
chickens and cook rice. There is much chatter and gossip. Julie 
Bourgeois' trousseau is enough to make your eyes pop out like 
M'sieu Frog's, hein? The priest is to read her bans in church 
Sunday. Madame Joubert's rheumatism is worse. That crazy 
doctor from the city wanted her to have all her teeth pulled out, 
that -paillasse! How can pains in her legs have anything to do 
with her teeth? What a flirt is that Louis Thibodeaux, yes ! And 
him engaged to Clothilde LeBlanc over a year now. Poor 
Clothilde! That harelip is sad, 

The Cajuns 

Mardi Gras Night there is the ball. Everybody attends. The 
babies, maybe fifty of them, are all in the fare aux petits. It'll be 
a hard job finding your own baby when the ball is over. As a 
matter of fact, some mothers take home the wrong baby and the 
next day they must be redistributed. When a child turns out a 
disappointment to his parents, many Cajun mothers and fathers 
have been heard to exclaim that they must have taken home the 
wrong infant from a Mardi Gras Ball. Surely their own offspring 
could not be so wicked, no! 

Sports occupy much of the Cajun's time. The annual pirogue 
race on Bayou Barataria is immensely popular. It attracts 
throngs, not only from the Cajun country, but also from New 
Orleans and neighboring towns. Each year hundreds of people 
line the marshes along the three-and-one -quarter- mile course to 
watch the stirring contest. 

A pirogue is a frail shell of a boat, hewn out of a single log, 
averaging thirteen feet in length and twenty-two inches in 
width. They are indispensable in the swamps and along the 
bayous and coastal marshes, being the only practical means of 
transportation. While their frailty makes them difficult to han- 
dle, these Cajuns skim over the water at amazing speeds, the 
boats often loaded with shrimp and crabs. Children often use 
them in traveling to and from school. 

So great is Cajun skill that the races are thrilling sights. In 
1940 Adam Billiot won the race for the fourth consecutive year, 
establishing a new record of thirty-five minutes and twenty 
seconds for the four-mile course. Billiot was only a youth of 
twenty at the time, but for years the highest praise anyone of the 
bayou folk can give another has been, ' That man, he paddle like 
a Billiot, yes!' In 1940 a 'Nawthun Yankee' entered the pirogue 
race for the first time. This caused much consternation. If this 
'Nawthuner' won, the humiliation of the Cajuns would be 
without precedent. They managed very well, however. The 
'Nawthuner' came in last. Pirogues are for Cajuns. 

Papegai shooting offers the winners the portions of a calf or ox 
that correspond with the particular part of the wooden animal 
they manage to hit. This large animal is attached to the top of a 
long pole and those taking part must pay a fee. Lubin Laurent, 

20 o Gumbo Ya-Ya 

in his History of St. John the Baptist Parish, tells an amusing story 
in connection with this. It involves one Telesphore Cynporien, 
who had shot off the head of the wooden animal and as a conse- 
quence must be the one to lasso the ox in the pasture. To make 
sure he could hold the ox once he caught him, Telesphore tied 
one end of the rope about his waist and proudly walked into 
the pasture, leaving the gate wide open. All at once spectators 
saw the ox running at a terrific speed toward the open gate, drag- 
ging Telesphore behind him, and as the ox went through the 
gate someone yelled, ' Where are you going, Telesphore?' Tele- 
sphore yelled back, 'How I know, me; for why don't you ask 
the ox?' 

All Cajuns love frog legs, so hunting the frog is a favorite 
pastime. Even children take part. In the spring frogs come out 
of the mud where they spend the winter and begin to croak. It is 
said that the entire population of a settlement can be depended 
upon to take part in a frog hunt. 

Children take part in the important crawfish industry, too. So 
popular is this that they even have a little song about it, a taunt- 
ing jingle flung at the Cajun youngsters by Negro children. 

Poor crawfish ain't got no show, 
Frenchmen catch 'em and make gumbo. 

Go all 'round the Frenchmen's beds, 
Don't find nothin' but crawfish heads. 

Here is another version of the same teasing song : 

Frenchman! Frenchman! Nine days old! 
Wrung his hands off in a crayfish hole. 

Frenchman! Frenchman! Nine days old, 
Got his hand broke off in a crayfish hole. 

'Creeping the goose' is the Cajun's method of hunting geese. 
They believe geese always leave a member of a flock posted as a 
sentinel, and that this sentinel is alert for only one thing, the ap- 
pearance of any watching human eyes. So the Cajuns, when they 
have spotted geese feeding in a pond or bay, begin to creep to- 

The Cajuns 201 

ward them, snaking through the sawgrass and holding their 
heads down so that their eyes cannot be seen by the sentinel bird. 
When they are near the geese, one of the Cajuns, who has been 
previously selected, claps his hands, and at this signal all the 
hunters spring up and fire. 

In the Attacapan country the people are mostly herdsmen, for 
cattle thrive on the marshland. There they have become skillful 
and daring riders. Their horses are small Creole ponies, descend- 
ants of the mustangs which once ran wild on the prairies. These 
the young men train as courting horses, teaching them to prance, 
curvet, rear and dance, so as to impress the young ladies whose 
favors they hope to win. 

The Cajun has little opportunity to enjoy the theater, but he 
makes the most of what he has. Occasional tent shows reach the 
Cajun communities, and when this happens the whole village 
turns out. Paul English operated one of these repertoire com- 
panies for years, and many amusing incidents occurred when his 
troupe performed for Cajun audiences. He was very popular and 
was known as 'M'sieu Paul* to everybody along the bayous. 

On one occasion while playing the murder mystery ' The Go- 
rilla,' English used the same uniform for the gorilla character as 
was used in the New York production, a very realistic and terror- 
provoking costume. At the end of the play the gorilla leaps 
from the stage and runs down the aisle of the theater, most of 
the other characters in the play behind him. In the most culti- 
vated communities this sensational bit always evoked screams 
from the women and much amusement from anyone who had 
never seen the production before. In the bayou country the 
response was overwhelming. Many a Cajun fled, or joined in 
the chase. 

While playing one small town, English received a call from 
three Cajuns carrying bulky bundles on their backs. After being 
greeted by English, one, acting as spokesman, revealed: 

'M'sieu Paul, we is all gon' come see your show tonight, and 
we want to promise you all this trouble she been having is gon' 
stop, yes. We is all your good friend, M'sieu Paul, so we is take 
care of all that for you.' 

Puzzled, English asked, ' What do you mean, boys?' 

202 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

'Well,' said the spokesman, 'we understand that in the last 
go 'round (last act) is a beeg animal that she bust up your show 
every night. That ain't gon' happen no more, no. Me, Leon 
and Tee Jacques, we is gon' put all these things we got here in 
them aisles, and you bet your life that's the end for that mon- 

They had all brought their animal traps! 

Movies are popular all over the Cajun country, cowboy and 
other types of action pictures being first choice. ' Quiet, please !' 
signs are wasted in Cajun cinemas, for no Cajun ever stops talk- 
ing except when he's asleep, much less when Gene Autry is 
chasing rustlers across the screen. At such tense moments, lean- 
ing forward in their seats, Cajuns will yell : ' Come on, Gene ! Get 
him, you! I would not let him get away with that, no. Not 
me!' And with anxious sighs, ' Sacre bleu! That Gene Autry is 
sure dead now. There ain't never gon' be no more pictures from 
him. That's for true!' 

Baseball has its devotees as elsewhere. Nearly every town has 
its home team. They are exceptionally good teams, too. The 
Empire Louisiana nine, made up of brothers and first cousins, 
won every Sunday game they played lor three consecutive years. 
Some of these boys found their ways into minor leagues, but none 
can be traced as having joined the majors, possibly because a 
Cajun gets homesick very quickly and has an absolute horror of 
cold weather, which is anything under fifty degrees. Auguste 
Breaux explained: 'Even this water down here don't like cold 
weather, no. You see how as soon as she gets a little cold she 
turns herself into ice?' 

Food, its preparation and consumption, must be classified as a 
Cajun pleasure. Cooking is an art. Eating, one of life's genuine 
delights. At community gatherings, at church fairs, in the 
home, great skill and infinite patience go into the creation of 
their dishes. 

Favorites are oysters, which can be served in at least thirty- 
five different ways, crawfish bisque, courtbouillon, crabs, soft- 
shelled and hard, spaghetti and bouchettes, the latter a kind of 
meatball made with chopped onion and sweet pepper, fried 
chicken and no one can fry chicken like a Cajun ! fish in a 

The Cajuns 203 

hundred and one different ways. Always there is gumbo, made 
with crabs, shrimp and ham, sometimes with chicken, beef or 
sausage, and thickened with file, the powdered leaves of the 
sassafras plant, or with okra. Various jambalayas are favorites, 
combining rice, tomatoes and seasoning with oysters, shrimp, 
ham, sausage or other meat or sea food. Grillades are popular; 
these are veal rounds cut into squares and cooked in a roux, a 
highly seasoned brown gravy nearly always present on Cajun 
tables. Rice is always there, too, white and dry, each grain sep- 
arate. Bouillabaisse, a stew of several kinds of fish, usually red- 
fish and red snapper with crabs, shrimp, oysters and crayfish, all 
highly seasoned, with tomatoes and shallots in the gravy, is 
common. Cafe noir strong black coffee pours down Cajun 
throats all day long, and the coffee-pot is always on the stove, 
hot and ready. 

Like many Cajuns, Alastair Foucheaux deplores the develop- 
ment of the oil industry in southern Louisiana. 

'Me, I'm afraid we don't get no more oyster soon,' he groaned. 
' Why? Them oil business she kill all the oyster in the bayous. 
You know them machines what look like steeples on a church? 
Derreeck? I don't call them things nothing good, me. They 
spill oil all over the bayous and kill everything, them. M'sieu, 
they is crazy! What happen we have no more oyster, hein? 
Then maybe we have no more shrimps and no more crab, how, we 
gon' make gumbo or jambalaya? And if we don't have no more 
gumbo and no more jambalaya, what hell Cajun gon' eat that's 
any good, hein? Oh, M'sieu, $a cest awful!' 

It has been said that Cajun Heaven is 'gumbo, go-go and 

Occasionally a Cajun will go on 'one beeg Bambache,' a 
drinking spree. 'Mine friend,' said Paul Dada, 'it just happen, 
that's all. We get in our boats and all of a sudden, us, we find 
ourselves thinking life ain't nothing to a mans without womens 
and wine. We sit and think a while, then one of us, he say 
"This boat, she ain't actin' right, Paul. I think maybe she need 
a new spark plug. ' ' They everybody say he think so too. Before 
you can say "boo" we is going back up that old river to the 
town, us. 

204 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

' We stay in town maybe Friday, maybe Saturday, maybe Sun- 
day. Those bambache is bad. Me, I always have head like one big 

Cajuns, in their own way, make good husbands, so long as 
their wives behave. A visitor in a Cajun home where a young 
couple lived with the husband's parents was astonished to hear 
blows and screams from a room into which the young couple had 
just entered. The door flew open and the young wife ran out of 
the house with a great bump on her forehead. The boy's mother 
turned to her husband and complained: ' Charles Alex is bad, yes. 
He should not hit Lulu like that. You would not do that to me, 

The older man took his pipe out of his mouth and said quietly : 
' I never had no reason for to hit you. But if Charles Alex did not 
beat hell out of that womans he's got once in a while there 
would be nothing he could do with her.' 

Then the mother turned to the visitor and explained gently, 
'Outside of these little things them two children love them- 
selves plenty and get along fine.' 

The Cajun is shrewd and often clever at outwitting the 'for- 
eigners' trespassing in his bayou land. Apparently his motives 
are mixed, on one hand the fun of proving himself smarter than 
the city stranger, on the other the opportunity of financial gain. 

Two New Orleans men drove through a Louisiana storm to- 
ward Vacherie, Louisiana. Lightning flashed, thunder roared, 
rain came down in glittering sheets. Suddenly the automobile 
groaned and sank axle-deep in a mudhole. To make matters 
worse, the storm abated within a few minutes, the clouds van- 
ished and a mockingly cheery sun beamed down on the wet 
world. Just at that time a team of animals appeared, a horse and 
a mule, harnessed for pulling. And on the back of the mule rode 
a Negro, and on the back of the horse straddled a Cajun. 

The white man dismounted and approached the driver of the 
car. 'Hello!' he said brightly. 'I am Paul Auzot (pronounced 
O-zoo). Me, I live on farm up way a little bit. This here is 
Etienne.' The Negro grinned. Paul Auzot examined the wheels 
of the car. ' Uh huh,' he mumbled. ' Uh huh. You is stuck good, 
yes. If you had sense to pull over 'bout two inches you would 

The Cajuns 205 

not be in here. But there is worse hole farther on, so maybe it is 
just as good you get in this one. 'Course you is city fellow and 
you don't know damn thing anyway.' 

'Listen, Mr. O-zoo,' said the city fellow, 'how about letting 
up on the sermon and pulling us out of here?' 

'Mr. O-zoo' looked at Etienne. 'Leesten him,' he chuckled. 
' He don't like to talk, no. M'sieu, if you was talk a little 'fore 
you come out here you would not be in there, and you would 
have save five dollars she gon' cost you to get out, hein? If you 
was talk a little and first ask about this road you would be 
smart, yes.' 

The driver tried to be hard-boiled. 'Look here,' he said. 
'That's enough. All I want you to do is to get me out of this 
mudhole. And, by the way,' he added suspiciously, 'there's 
something very peculiar about the way you and your friend there 
came along here all harnessed up.' 

Auzot laughed. 'Is nothing funny, m'sieu. Is business, yes. 
And it cost you five dollar.' 

'That's too much,' the driver snorted. 

' Five dollar is what I charge,' said the Cajun. ' You want me 
and Etienne take a little ride? Is another car stuck farther down 
this same road.' 

'No. No,' groaned the victim. 'Get to work. Just shut up!' 

'Hokay! Hokay!' The Cajun turned to Etienne. 'Now, 
Etienne, first we hitch car and pull her to bridge, hein? Then we 
is turn on bridge 'til nose she points to Vacherie.' 

An elaborate procedure followed. Auzot mounted the horse, 
and Etienne, to its occupants' amazement, straddled the hood of 
the automobile, holding fast to the harness. With much wheez- 
ing and chugging, the car pulled out of the mudhole and slowly 
began to approach the bridge. Suddenly, there was a loud 
'Ouch!' from Etienne and he seemed unable to keep his seat. 

Paul turned and laughed at him. ' Well, of all damn fools you 
is wors* borique in whole world!' he chuckled. 'If you ain't got 
no more sense than to sit your gogo on hot engine you ought to 
get burned good, yes.' 

fitienne jumped off and walked the rest of the way. 

At the bridge, Paul accepted the five dollars from the driver. 

2 o 6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

' I do good job, hein?' he asked proudly. ' You see, me, I got one 
horse and one mule for team. I keep mule to pull and horse for 
his brains. Adieu, monsieur. We see you again sometime, hein?' 

'Look here,' asked the driver, 'is that your land there?' 

'Yes, monsieur, on that side of bridge,' Paul admitted. 

'Is that road yours?' 

'Yes, monsieur,' Paul again admitted. But by this time both 
he and Etienne were mounted on their steeds. 

'And this road I'm going to use,' asked the motorist with a 
final sigh, ' does it belong to you too?' 

' Oh, no, monsieur,' answered Paul cheerfully. ' That road she 
belong to Joe Serpas. And you don't need to worry about 
nothin' like holes in his road. That Joe Serpas he ain't got 
sense enough to see that his roads got holes. He ain't smart like 
me, no. Adieu, monsieur!' 

A Cajun is proud of his race, his family, his strength, his 
prowess as a hunter, fisherman, fighter or lover, and he boasts of 
any or all of these with a childish lack of restraint. A Cajun told 
a friend: 'I am a true man, me. I got credit at Fisher Store; I got 
a share in my boat; and I make fourteen children for my wife.' 

Tell a Cajun woman that she is beautiful and she will shrug 
her shoulders and say, with a roll of her dark eyes, 

'You is tell me something what I is already know!' 

Chapter 10 

The Temple of Innocent Blood 

fin Avenue, is the jumble of decaying frame buildings which 
comprised the foundation of Mother Catherine Seals. Pigs wal- 
low in the ' baptismal pool* and snuffle about the huge misshapen 
feet of her 'Jehovah God,' chickens are busy in her 'Temple.' 
'Saint Michael, the Archangel,' surveys the fowl with a look of 
studious appreciation as a dropping is gaily deposited on the 
slain serpent at his feet. 

Although the spirits appointed Mother Rita to be Mother 
Catherine's successor in the Temple of Innocent Blood, they have 
practically abandoned her. Or perhaps she has simply forgotten 
how to summon them for she is old and confused, and the 
spirits like a priestess with some get-up. No use trying to ani- 
mate the shriveled body of Mother Rita. So the services are now 
little more than a memorial. A handful gathers to survey the 
relics and to brood on the greatness of the departed leader, there 
is a little singing and praying, but no one lingers long amid the 
dust and clutter. It is a relief to get back to the streets and the 
reassuring clamor of life. 

Mother Catherine originally planned the building known as 

20 8 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

the Temple of Innocent Blood as a hospital and refuge for preg- 
nant unmarried women. It had been her object to prevent abor- 
tions 'the shedding of innocent blood' to give the needy 
mothers care, and to place the infants in institutions. However, 
she was unable to complete the structure, so it was converted 
into a temple after the church burned down. A layer of shells 
serves as a floor, and tattered canvas hanging from the beams 
indicates that blinds once protected the interior. 

The cylindrical object above the altar, Mother Rita explains, 
is the ' Key of the World. ' Mother Catherine made it shortly be- 
fore she died, and no one knows what it means, but it is a holy 
symbol formed according to the instructions of the spirits. All 
that Mother Rita remembers is that soil, salt and herbs were 
mixed in the composition. Most of the inscriptions on the brown 
reptilian body of the Key have been effaced, but still discernible 
are the words 'Rice, sugar, salt,' 'My Jehovia' and other ex- 
pressions. The four voodoo faces at the ring, or top end of the 
Key, would seem to offer a sufficient explanation of its inspira- 
tion. The four faces gaze indifferently over the dusty heads of the 
'saints' busy with their exhortations, blessings and devotions; 
their reptilian body rears positively above the cobwebbed nega- 
tions teetering uncertainly on the shells below. 

Most of the Catholic images, vessels, etc. were gifts from those 
Mother Catherine is supposed to have healed. Among the jum- 
ble is a large statue of Saint Benedict d' Amour. This was given 
by a white man, who, because his name was unfamiliar to the 
colored congregation, was known by the name of the statue he 
donated. One is startled by seeing valuable reproductions in 
bronze and among the life-sized statues are several similar to 
those seen in cathedrals. Remnants of sacred vestments hang 
carelessly from poles nailed to cross beams, while more molder in 
drawers and cupboards. Galvanized tubs which were used to 
hold food during feast times are lettered in red with the follow- 
ing inscription : ' The blessing of Sweet Jesus, and Sacred Heart 
(represented by heart-shaped device). The Blessing Jehova 
handed down to Mother Seal.' 

There is a stair leading to a balcony, or choir loft. Two or 
three hundred kerosene lamps stand about the floor. The large 

The Tern fie of Innocent Blood 2 o p 

blanket-covered objects are band instruments. On a table is an 
enormous brass trumpet; on the floor are the drums: a tom-tom, 
bass and kettle drums. An automatic piano stands in the center, 
accompanied by a rack of rolls. The throb and beat of the Congo, 
the blare of Harlem, the torchlit ceremonies of Haiti, flash by as 
one touches the brooding alien head of the tom-tom and the cold 
impassive brass of the great horn. 

Down there among the dust-laden pews lie the forgotten fig- 
ures of a creche little Jesus and his mother and a few decrepit 
ovines. It is a wonder that they have survived so long, but per- 
haps Mother Rita's grandchildren do not find them very inter- 
esting. Mother Rita has half a dozen grandchildren living in the 
ramshackle abode adjacent to the 'Temple.' They are friendly, 
happy young ones, and reasonably may be supposed to have 
little fear of retribution from 'Jehovah God,' for he has been 
standing at their front door for a long time. Mother Catherine 
made him in April, 19x7. It took her only fourteen days: the 
inscription on the base says, 'Started April i6th 192.7, finished 
April 3oth 192.7.' There must be few statues more hideous than 
Mother Catherine's 'Jehovah God' as he stands there in mon- 
strous decrepitude in phe pig yard. 

Mother Catherine founded her cult, the forerunner of many 
'spiritualist' churches among the Negroes in New Orleans, in 
192.2.. She had suffered a paralytic stroke, and a white 'healer' 
whose services she had solicited had refused to cure her because 
of her color. Right then she resolved to pray herself into a state 
of grace and good health. A spirit told her that her prayers 
would be answered and suggested that she found a religion of her 
own as soon as she was able. 

Mother Catherine set about her task without money and with- 
out followers. She chose a tract out by the Industrial Canal, and 
in some way was able to secure the services of the builders who 
erected her first temple and residence. 

She became known as a healer. Soon she had many followers, 
and gifts from grateful devotees made possible the furnishing of 
her church. Flags of the Sacred Heart, Jehovah and the Innocent 
Blood flew from atop her building, and the interior became 
crowded with holy pictures, statues and altars; five hundred oil 

2 io Gumbo Ya-Ya 

lamps burned constantly. She cured by 'layin* on ob hands an' 
anointin' dere innards' with a full tumbler of warm castor oil, 
followed by a quarter of a lemon to kill the taste. ' You gotta do 
as I says if you wants to be healed an' blessed,' she told those 
who objected. 

Mother Catherine always entered the church through a hole 
in the roof of a side room, intimating that she was sent down 
from Heaven to preach the gospel. She had no particular uni- 
form. The Lord told her what to wear. Often it was an ample 
white robe and nun-like headdress. About her waist she always 
wore the blue cord of power and purity, and from it dangled a 
large key. Members were permitted to kneel at her feet and 
make wishes as they kissed this key. She wore no shoes on her 
grotesquely large feet, saying that 'de Lawd went widout 

Because of her illiteracy the High Priestess did not bother with 
the Bible. She told her congregation that she read her Bible all 
the time, and remembered everything in it. ' Ah's gonna gib ya 
facts,' she would say. 

After her sermon there would be singing, and then healing. 
If the candidate for healing did not respond to her treatment, 
someone would say, 'Sumpin's wrong wid him. Boy, clean yo' 
soul 'fo' de debbil gits ya too much.' The lame were sometimes 
whipped with a wet towel, and told to run out of the church. 
The blind were treated with rainwater, or in stubborn cases 
Mother Catherine 'called lightnin' right down from Hebben' to 
clear the clouded visions of her patients. 

Mother Rita's memories of the great teacher and healer are 
growing shadowy, but she will relate what she can remember 
willingly enough. Mother Catherine, she says, was born near 
Lexington, Kentucky. She never went to school, and first mar- 
ried at the age of seventeen. The two children born of this union 
died when quite small, and no children resulted from her two 
subsequent marriages. As she was unable to read, her teachings 
were not based on the Bible; all her inspiration came from the 
'Holy Spirit.' 

Two weeks before her death she was confined to bed by illness. 
Her plan was to go to Niagara Falls for her health as soon 

The Temple of Innocent Blood -211 

as she recovered sufficiently. But, according to Mother Rita, the 
Good Spirit told her that she had only a very short while to live. 
So Mother Catherine left her bed and traveled to her birthplace 
in Kentucky, where she died August 9, 1930, two days after her 
arrival. She believed that she would be resurrected. ' Ah's gonna 
sleep while, not die. De great God Jehovia, He's callin' me to 
come an' rest awhile. But on de third day Ah's comin* back; 
Ah's gonna rise again. Ah's gonna continue ma good wuk.' 

Thousands attended the funeral. The congregation first in- 
tended that its High Priestess should be buried in the Temple, 
then planned a tomb near the building. But the city health 
officials objected and Mother Catherine was buried in the Saint 
Vincent de Paul Cemetery, vault number 144, 4th tier. . 

On warm days Mother Rita sits beside the 'Temple' in the sun 
like some small bronze god, hands upturned passively in her 
lap. At night she sleeps amid the monumental clutter of Mother 
Catherine's old room at the rear of the 'Temple.' Mother Cath- 
erine prays and sings with her every night, she says, but never 
talks about the church, for 'Mother Catherine's wuk is done. 
She's res tin'.' 

Chapter 11 

The Plantations 

eral troops on their march into the South have, with the pass- 
ing of time, been blended into a composite picture with de- 
tails familiar to all. The traditional pattern of events preceding 
the arrival of the Northerners is equally familiar, as are also the 
heroic and resourceful attitudes of the women and slaves who 
faced the invaders. Admirable attitudes, however, rarely pre- 
vailed against the needs of hungry and threadbare troops, and 
after the storm had passed those remaining in its wake usually 
found themselves bereft of every movable possession except those 
which had been too well hidden for a hasty search to reveal. 
Sometimes, it is said, failure to produce some desired valuable, 
or too haughty a manner toward the conquerors, provoked the 
burning of a mansion, but whether or not this occurred, the old 
life of the home departed with the last whisper of marching feet 
Plenty had made her exit from the scene, and Want took her 

It is of the Utopia of Before the War that old Southerners 
speak. It was here and it is gone. The best of all possible worlds 
existed in the South and it was destroyed. And, truly, if merely 

The Plantations 

a part of this remembered grandeur once existed in reality, Lou- 
isiana plantation life must have been almost paradisiacal. 

The old home places were not built in a few months nor even, 
in some cases, in a few years. John Hampden Randolph, builder 
and original owner of NOTTAWAY (thirty-one miles south of Baton 
Rouge), spent four years in selecting, cutting and seasoning the 
timbers for the mansion and in building the limekiln for the 
brickwork. Completed, Nottaway was a fortress calculated to 
defy the attacks of time and shelter a dozen generations of South- 
ern gentility yet unborn. The way of life in what we term the 
Old South was expected by those who lived it to last forever, and 
two generations might be spent erecting and furnishing a home 
which was destined to be destroyed in a few hours by the fire of 

Another such mansion was that of Charles Duralde, a legend 
now, even to his descendants in St. Martin ville, where settled 
many exiled patricians in the early decades of the past century. 
Nothing could have seemed more permanent than the life of the 
Duralde family at PINE ALLEY. The Duralde acres numbered in 
the tens of thousands, with a corresponding number of slaves, 
and the Duralde progeny an even two dozen twelve children 
from each of his two wives. 

Rarely equaled in pure fantasy is the story of preparations for 
the first Duralde wedding, a double ceremony at which two of 
the daughters became the brides of prominent members of St. 
Martin ville society. While such stories have doubtless gained 
with retelling through the years, they yet seem to have an in- 
digenous quality quite in keeping with the spirit of the times in 
which the events recorded are supposed to have taken place. 

It is told that for the occasion of his daughters' wedding 
Charles Duralde prepared far in advance, bringing from China the 
strangest shipment ever to leave the shores of Cathay: a cargo of 
spiders, which he had freed in Pine Alley to spin a cloud of webs 
among the branches. Then slaves sprinkled the webs with gold 
and silver dust, and through this blazing corridor, over imported 
carpeting, the wedding procession wended its way to the mag- 
nificent altar which had been erected in front of the mansion. 
Food and wine were provided for two thousand guests, and the 
wedding festivities lasted for days. 

214 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

It is said that the rooms of the mansion were sprayed each 
morning with costly perfume; that he and his family bathed in 
cologne and that his carriages were decorated with silver and 
upholstered with cloth of gold. Yet Charles Duralde lived to 
behold the ruin of all that he held dear. He served with his sons 
and grandsons in the War Between the States, and returned to 
witness the dispersal of his slaves, the raiding of his mansion and 
the utter destruction of his personal world. Dying a few years 
later, he hinted that a large part of his fortune was somewhere 
buried or hidden away in a foreign bank, but never revealed its 

The slaves never returned to the Duralde plantation; the sugar 
mill has long since crumbled to ruin, and the mansion, decayed 
and abandoned, was demolished some years ago. His family 
scattered far and wide, nothing remained of the dynasty of 
Charles Duralde save a few fine portraits by an unknown artist, 
and these were lost in the flood of 192.7. 

Of greater prestige and wealth even than Duralde was Gabriel 
(Valcour) Aime, known as the 'Louis XIV of Louisiana.' Ro- 
manticists may stress that he was the owner of 'Le Petit Ver- 
sailles' so called because the elaborate formal gardens of THE 
REFINERY, only completed after twenty years, were the product 
of the genius who had arranged the Garden of Versailles but 
historians are more apt to note that Valcour Aime was the first 
(1834) to refine sugar in Louisiana. 

The Refinery, about twenty miles south of the present town of 
Donaldson ville, was really a vast agricultural experiment station 
developed to the fullest state of self-sufficiency. At one time 
Valcour Aime was dining with a friend in New Orleans. Both 
were epicures, and as they fell to comparing their personal chefs, 
then to speaking of the distant markets from which costly deli- 
cacies were obtained, Aime said to his friend: 

1 If you will be my guest at my home in St. James, I will prom- 
ise you a dinner that you yourself will admit is perfect, every 
item of which will come from my own plantation.' 

'Impossible,' said the New Orleans epicure. 'I do not doubt, 
my friend, that you can supply most of a dinner from your land, 
but a perfect dinner from your own plantation, that is impos- 

The Plantations 21 $ 

'Do you care to wager that it is impossible,' asked Aime, 'and 
you yourself, on your word of honor, to be the judge?' 

'Ten thousand dollars,' said the New Orleans man. 

'It is a bet,' said Valcour Aime. 

The dinner was eaten in the great dining-hall in St. James. 
There had been terrapin, shrimp and crabs, snipe and quail, 
breasts of wild duck, vegetables, salads, fruits, coffee and cigars, 
wines and a liqueur at the end. 

'What say you, my friend?' questioned Valcour Aime. 

'The dinner is perfect. But I think you lose,' answered the 
epicure, 'for no man can supply me with bananas, coffee and 
tobacco grown in St. James, Valcour Aime.' 

'Ah, my friend, wait a moment,' smiled Aime. He ordered 
horses, slaves with lanterns. They mounted and rode out on the 
plantation, where the planter displayed a conservatory covering 
plots of coffee and tobacco, bananas and pineapples. 

The master of ' Le Petit Versailles' was noted for his princely 
hospitality and lavish gestures. When the future king of France, 
Louis Philippe, was entertained at The Refinery, it is said that 
the plates and platters of gold from which His Highness had 
eaten were thrown into the Mississippi. 

The mansion, built in 1799, appeared to be in traditional 
Louisiana style, with eight massive columns supporting the 
front galleries, but wings extending backward enclosed a Span- 
ish-style patio. The floors and stairways were of marble, and 
secret stairs were built into the thick walls. 

Though the mansion burned in the second decade of the pres- 
ent century, the remains of the fort from which cannon boomed 
a welcome to visitors and where children played at battle with 
oranges can still be seen, and the channel of the ' river' is there, 
with its decaying bridges over which the wild vines creep. 

Lafcadio Hearn, after visiting the site of 'Le Petit Versailles' 
once the classic abode of white gazelles, peafowl, and kan- 
garoos described it as : 

A garden once filled with every known variety of exotic 
trees, with all species of fantastic shrubs, with the rarest floral 
products of both hemispheres but left utterly uncared for dur- 
ing a generation, so that the groves have been made weird 

2i 6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

with hanging moss and the vines have degenerated into para- 
sites, and richly cultivated oleanders have returned to their 
primitive form 

One of the earliest plantations of which we have record, 
MONTPLAISIR, established by the Chevalier de Pradel in 1750 on 
the west bank of the Mississippi opposite the Place d'Armes, is 
described by George C. H. Kernion in the Louisiana Quarterly. 
He writes: 

The Chevalier had reached the zenith of his power. From a 
country gentleman he had become a 'grand Seigneur.' Wealth, 
slaves, a plantation in the country, a home in town (in whose 
romantic garden shaded by venerable trees, the revolutionists 
La Freniere, Foucault, Villere, Noyan, Mazan, Milhet and 
others were to secretly gather in 1759 and after his death, to 
hatch their revolutionary plot), fine clothes, jewels, social 
position all now were his. But one thing was lacking to 
make his happiness complete. It was a chateau, yes, a French 
chateau like those he had known in his beloved Limousin, 
built in Louisiana, near New Orleans, where he could spend 
the last years of his life in peace and semi-regal magnificence! 

The act of sale was passed in France during the year 1750, 
and in 1751, the erection of the fairy palace, which was not to 
be completed before 1754, was started. The plans provided for 
a main building one hundred and six feet long by forty-eight 
feet wide, with wide galleries whose flooring was covered 
with cloth, running about its four sides. It had a gabled roof 
and wide attic, and contained a large dining-room, parlor, 
numerous bedrooms, study, laundry, and a room provided 
with large kettles known as the wax room, where the fruit of 
the 'driers' or wax trees that grew on the place was to be 
heated in order to extract therefrom wax with which the 
Chevalier was to manufacture the candles which he later ex- 
ported to France or sold in the colony. The main house, whose 
every window was glassed, was elevated from the ground, and 
leading to the main entrance was an imposing flight of steps 
which gave the edifice an imposing appearance. Montplaisir 
must have been truly a marvel for its day, not only on account 
of its architecture but also on account of its interior decora- 
tions and the beauty of the furniture that embellished it. In 

The Plantations 2/7 

the letters that he wrote to France about his new home, the 
Chevalier was always most enthusiastic. Everything used in 
its construction and furnishing, with the exception of brick 
and lumber, had been imported from France, and the numerous 
invoices which still exist show that he was unsparing in mak- 
ing it the finest home in the colony 

Montplaisir, with its stately mansion and the wonderful 
gardens that surrounded it, where ' -parterres' laid out in the 
most approved French style were resplendent with blooming 
flowers, gladdened the now aging Chevalier's heart, and its 
wide expanse dotted with indigo, rice, corn and vegetables, 
with productive orchards, with innumerable 'driers,' and 
with a sawmill and a brick yard, contributed materially in 
defraying his enormous expenses. 

The Chevalier died at his beloved Montplaisir, March 18, 

AFTON VILLA, in West Feliciana Parish, is a forty-room man- 
sion built by David Barrow in 1849, anc ^ sa ^ to ^ ave t >een m d- 
eled after a villa near Tours, France. It was so named because 
Mary Barrow, daughter of the owner by his first wife, was lo- 
cally famous for her singing of ' Flow Gently, Sweet Afton.' At 
the present time it is open to the public. 

At the time of the Northern invasion the Union Army passed 
that way, and the officer in charge, noticing the grandeur of the 
gateway, ordered his men to enter and take quarters in the 
house. The men, noticing the design of the gate and being un- 
able to see any trace of the house hidden far back in the trees, 
refused to go in, declaring that such an entrance led only to a 
cemetery. So Afton Villa, as it is now called, escaped pillage. 

The house has cathedral-like Gothic windows with stained 
glasses, bat demented towers with cannon, Moorish galleries; 
but while it is of hybrid style the general effect is pleasing. A 
moat was once contemplated, but fear of breeding mosquitoes 
saved the mansion from having a portcullis and drawbridge. 

HARVEY'S CASTLE at Harvey, near New Orleans, built by Cap- 
tain Harvey for his bride, was a home of quite another type. 
Though it was constructed in ninety days on a wager, and the 
work was all done by free Negroes, yet when it was demolished 

2 1 8 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

it was found to be almost as solid as when first built. Planned by 
Harvey and his contractor without other assistance, this house 
displayed the current influence of the time, the writings of Sir 
Walter Scott, and externally was much like the old State Capitol 
in Baton Rouge built three years later. 

Each of its three stories contained ten rooms, and the ceilings 
on all floors were eighteen feet high. Its two turrets afforded an 
unobstructed view of the river, and for years served as a land- 
mark for river pilots. Expensive furnishings, velvet hangings 
and oil paintings imported from abroad embellished the interior, 
and in its time it was one of the show places of the New Orleans 
area. Then the home was sold, to become an amusement resort, 
then a cheap tenement, and finally an abandoned pile which was 
demolished in 192.4. 

Deserving of more than passing mention is GREENWOOD, near 
St. Francis ville, whose lands were originally granted by the 
Spanish Government to Oliver Pollock, the merchant who, with 
the assistance of young Governor Galvez, financed the colonies 
to the amount of three hundred thousand dollars during the 
American Revolution and saved the Mississippi Valley from 
British troops advancing from the north. Pollock sold the 
plantation to the Barrow family, and the plantation house, one 
hundred feet square, with Doric columns, was built by William 
Ruffin Barrow in 1830. The paneled cypress doors have silver 
doorknobs and hinges. 

KENILWORTH, about twelve miles southeast of New Orleans, 
was originally built, in 1759, as a blockhouse or fort, and remod- 
eled in 1800. It was in this mansion during the Bienvenue tenure 
that General Beauregard was presented with a golden dress 
sword, commemorating his brilliant Mexican campaign. Kenil- 
worth has its ghosts a headless man and a lady in white 
whose footprints are said to be visible on the stairway the 
morning after the full moon. 

Mention should also be made of the SOLIS PLANTATION, which 
is not far from Kenilworth, for it was here that for the first time 
in America sugar was granulated. Solis, a refugee from Santo 
Domingo, had brought with him a small wooden sugar mill 
with which he made unsuccessful attempts to make sugar. In 

The Plantations 219 

1791 his holdings were bought by Antonio Mendez, who, with 
the aid of a sugar-maker from Cuba named Morin, was at last 
successful in inducing granulation. In the following year 
Etienne de Bore, having procured cane from Mendez, hired 
Morin, and in 1795 produced sugar for the first time on a com- 
mercial scale. 

PARLANGE, south of New Roads, is now a national monument 
to the Old South, selected by Secretary of the Interior Harold A. 
Ickes as a mansion typifying the taste and tradition of the days 
before the Civil War. 

The house was built in 1750 on a land grant to the Marquis 
Vincent de Ternant, and the plantation has descended in direct 
line to the present owners. On either side of the driveway are 
octagonal brick pigeonniers, and the house, approached through 
a grove of live-oaks and pecans, is a white, green-shuttered, 
one-and-a-half-story raised cottage of cypress, mud and moss 
construction. The furnishings of Parlange include rarities in 
silver, glass and porcelain, and many fine pieces of old furniture. 
The slave-made implements with which the house was built 
have been preserved. 

During the War Between the States the cash assets of the Ter- 
nant estate, amounting to three hundred thousand dollars, were 
placed in metal chests and buried, and not one of these has ever 
been found. Parlange served as headquarters for both General 
Banks, U.S.A., and General Dick Taylor, C.S.A., during the Red 
River Campaign. 

Another plantation home which is still in much the same con- 
dition as it wtas a century ago is THE SHADOWS, home of Weeks 
Hall, in New Iberia, where five generations have lived. It was 
built in 1830 by David Weeks, is of brick fired by slave labor, and 
the woodwork is Louisiana cypress. The blinds are the original 
ones, unchanged after more than a century of use. 

This structure is one of the most photographed homes in 
Louisiana. Eight masonry columns of the Doric order adorn the 
front, and above are three attic dormer windows. All the inte- 
rior woodwork and plaster detail is the original. The gardens 
are famous for the number, size and beauty of their camellias and 
azaleas. In the east garden is a clump of camellia trees planted 

220 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

when the house was built. Nowhere in the state do camellias 
flourish better than in New Iberia, to which these natives of 
China were brought from France. 

An article appearing in the Times-Picayune for January 12., 
1930, describing the house and grounds, concludes: 

Aspidistra fringes both sides of the curved paths to the 
street, and on either hand azaleas and camellias crowd in well- 
arranged shrubbery groups with oleanders glowing at one 
corner of the house against young bamboo lances; yellow but- 
terfly lilies dappling shrubbery with gold and here and there 
the pink filaments of tassel-like flpwers lifting . . . mistily over 
albizzia mimosa trees. 

Many rare plants appear among those which fill the side 
gardens and encircle the ends of the house. ... It is like enter- 
ing Eden from a village street. 

OAK ALLEY, near Donaldson ville, built in 1836 for I. T. Ro- 
man, brother of Andre Bienvenu Roman, Governor of Louisiana 
(1831-35; 1839-43), is one of the most magnificent old planta- 
rion houses now to be seen in Louisiana. It is of plastered brick, 
seventy feet square, girdled by twenty-eight Doric columns 
each eight feet in circumference. On this plantation, it is said, 
the first successful pecan grafting was performed by a slave gar- 

Adjoining Oak Alley are Saint Joseph and Felicity Planta- 
tions, wedding presents of Valcour Aime to two of his daughters. 
Next is the site of the famous 'Little Versailles.' 

Among the often visited homes of Louisiana, some are noted 
because of having been the homes of famous people, others be- 
cause of some historical event with which they are connected, 
others for their lassie or bizarre architecture, and others for 
some single feature. 

CARPENTER HOUSE, near Delhi, is visited because Jesse James 
once shared its hospitality, and the owner proudly exhibits a 
bedspread under which the famous bandit is said to have slept. 
OAKLAWN MANOR has a bathtub carved from a single block of 
white marble, in which it is said that Henry Clay used to refresh 
himself. The walls of the great hall of LINWOOD, and other 
rooms, were originally painted to represent jungle scenes. Eliza 

The Plantations 221 

Ripley, in her Social Life of Old New Orleans, wrote her impres- 
sions thus: 

A great tiger jumped out of dense thickets toward savages 
who were fleeing in terror. Tall trees reached to the ceiling, 
with gaudily striped boa constrictors wound about their 
trunks; hissing snakes peered out of the jungle; birds of gay 
plumage, paroquets, parrots, peacocks everywhere, some way 
up, almost out of sight in the greenery; monkeys swung from 
limb to limb; orang-outangs and lots of almost naked dark- 
skinned natives wandered about. To cap the climax, right 
close to the steps one had to mount to the floor above was a 
lair of ferocious lions. 

Though good taste frequently gave way to whimsicality, it 
would, in general, be difficult to exaggerate the magnificence of 
these establishments, which in their time were unrivaled in the 
New World. Northern visitors often experienced sympathetic 
pangs after viewing the remains of some ransacked and vandal- 
ized abode. Said one, in the New Orleans Democrat of June 19, 1877: 

My principles now lead me to abhor slavery, rejoice in its 
abolition, yet sometimes in the heat and toil of the struggle 
for existence, the thought involuntarily steals over me that 
we have seen better days. I think of the wild rides after the 
deer; of the lolling, the book; the delicious nap on the gallery, 
in the summer house; of the long sittings at meals, and the 
after-dinner cigar of the polished groups in the easy but viva- 
cious conversation in the parlor; of the chivalric devotion to 
beautiful women, of the clownish antics of pickaninnies when 
you tossed them a nickel, how they screamed for the rinds 
after you had eaten your watermelon on the piazza in the after- 
noon, and ' as fond recollection presents them to view' I feel 
the intrusive swelling of the tear of regret. . . . 

The food and the social life of the days ' Before the War' were 
indeed something to recollect. Whole families often went vis- 
iting and stayed a week or a month, and to entertain and feed 
fifty guests was not unusual. A midnight snack before going to 
bed might consist of a dozen items, such as gumbo, hot meats, 
cold meats, salads, galantines, fruit, cakes, charlotte russes, 

zzz Gumbo Ya-Ya 

whipped cream garnished with red cherries, caramel, sorbet and 
ice cream. A real dinner might terminate with a dozen desserts. 

For really important occasions famous chefs were brought out 
to the plantations from New Orleans, perhaps several at one 
time; one famed for his sauces, for instance, and another whose 
pastries were reputed to be the finest in the State. At WALNUT 
GROVE a miniature railroad ran from the kitchen to the dining- 
room, bringing food in piping hot, and also testifying to the 
amount of edibles served. Over these groaning tables waved the 
punkas, operated by small black slaves, in exact imitation of the 
lordly customs of the Far East. 

The plantation bells, used to summon slaves from the fields and 
for other similar purposes, are subjects of numerous legends. It is 
said that Bernard de Marigny tossed one thousand Mexican dol- 
lars into the cauldron when the bell for his estate was in prepa- 
ration. The completed bell, we are told, possessed the purest and 
most delightful of tones. But like 'grandfather's clock' it re- 
fused to function when its special duty was at an end; on the day 
of freedom its fastenings gave way, it fell to the ground and 
was cracked beyond repair. Judah P. Benjamin had six hundred 
dollars melted into the bell at BELLECHASSE. The ZACHARY 
TAYLOR HOUSE is famous for the same reason, the President hav- 
ing brought back many dollars from the Mexican War for the 
express purpose of creating a bell for his plantation with as 
sweet a tone as possible. 

Every plantation had a name, most of them simple and chosen 
for fairly obvious reasons. A glance at an old map reveals the 
and many others. 

Local gossip testifies that SPENDTHRIFT was so named because 
the original owner of the estate lost it to another man during a 
remain mystifying with their pessimistic implications. 


The Plantations 225 

WILLOW GROVE are, of course, the result of the existence of a par- 
ticular kind of tree which might be numerous on the plantation. 
The many ' oak' names, such as THREE OAKS, TWIN OAKS, OAK- 
DALE, THE OAKS, OAK ALLEY, LIVE-OAKS, are evidence of the 
profusion of oak trees in Louisiana. 

Sir Walter Scott's works were extremely popular throughout 
the State, probably because he pictured a society whose mood 
was much the same as that of the South during the period, and 
many a plantation was christened with such a name as WOOD- 

Nostalgia for the land of their forefathers may have prompted 
others to call their homes VERSAILLES, CHATEAU DE CLERY, KENT, 
of course, so called in honor of Napoleon's victory at that place. 

Some of these remain; many are gone. All suffered change, and 
bad fortune has, at one time or another, laid its depressing hand 
on every one. Evidences which verify the old tales of indignities 
to Southern homes and properties may be seen to this day. 
Treasure is found by some heir three or four generations removed 
from the harassed forebear who had hastily hidden it. Happily, 
among all the stories of wanton depredations are others, difficult 
for the Southerner to understand, but readily and frankly ad- 
mitted by him such as the one told by the master of CRESCENT 
PLANTATION HOUSE. He said that when he had advised the Union 
soldiers of the illness of his wife, they not only refrained from 
burning the mansion or disturbing the premises in any way, but 
the officer in charge bowed sweepingly, and said : ' Sir, we do not 
murder women. I bid you good day!' 

Chapter 12 

The Slaves 

in The Bee, a New Orleans newspaper, on April 12., 1862., in this 


by N. Virgie, Auctioneer 

Saturday, April 12., 1861, at n o'clock M., will be at the Mer- 
chants and Auctioneers Exchange, Royal Street. 
Elizabeth, a Mulatto girl, aged about n years cook, 
washer, ironer and house servant fully guaranteed. Terms 

She might almost have been Cecile White, who, nearly a cen- 
tury old in 1941, remembered being sold on the auction block 
in just such a way. 

'I was borned back in the old country,' said Cecile, 'in South 
Carolina. My Marse died, and me and my ma was shipped down 
the river to this heathen land. I was sold right at the French 
Market in New Orleans.' 

The first black slaves were brought to Louisiana from Mar- 
tinique, Guadeloupe and San . Domingo, five hundred being 
imported in 1716 and three thousand during the year following. 
But the West Indian Negro was found to be steeped in Voodoo- 
ism and of a rebellious, troublesome type, and soon nearly all 

The Slaves 225 

slaves were being brought from Africa. Under the rule of Don 
Alexander O'Reilly admittance of slaves from the Indies was 
rigidly forbidden, and after the American acquisition in 1804 a 
law was passed prohibiting entry of such merchandise from any 
country; only those brought into the United States prior to 1798 
were to be admitted to Louisiana. But shiploads of contraband 
Negroes continued to arrive, and free Negroes in the eastern and 
northern states were frequently kidnapped and carried down to 
New Orleans to be sold into slavery. Too, slaves bred rapidly 
and soon there were two distinct types on the market, those 
from the jungles and the Creole Negroes, those born in Louisiana 
or in the West Indies. 

Slave sales were advertised almost daily in the newspapers of 
the era, the Blacks being classified by the occupations for which 
they were best suited, such as field hands, washers, or cooks, and 
later, as miscegenation became widespread, according to approx- 
imate degree of Negro blood, as mulatto, griffe or quadroon. 
Attractive, near-white wenches brought the highest prices of 
all, frequently being purchased by wealthy men as mistresses. 
The Daily Picayune, in 1837, gave an account of a girl 'remark- 
able for her beauty and intelligence who sold at $7000 in New 
Orleans'; and the New York Sun, the same year, describing an- 
other auction in New Orleans, said, 'the beautiful Martha was 
struck off at $4500.' 

The slave mart at the old St. Louis Hotel in New Orleans was 
probably the most famous on the continent. A typical notice 
of a sale here, appearing in The Bee, January 18, 1841, was as 
follows : 

At the St. Louis Exchange, between Chartres and Royal Sts. 
at noon. 

Riley about 2.8 years old. 

Dick about 34 years old. 

Cook about 30 years old. 

Oliver about 2.6 years old. 

Marie, negress about 35 years old. 

Marie Anne about 35 years old. 

This syndicate is not responsible for the characters nor vices 
of the slaves. 

226 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Slaves increased in value to a certain age, then rapidly de- 
creased. A Negro who sold at twenty-nine years of age for 
$750 brought $1000 at forty, but probably not more than $400 at 

By 1850 there were 145,000 slaves in Louisiana. In 1860 there 
were at least twenty-five slave marts within a few squares of 
each other in New Orleans. The fruitfulness of the Louisiana 
soil and the proximity of the port of New Orleans made it profit- 
able to turn all cash into slaves for the purpose of cultivating 
that land, with the result that slave property alone ran into 
millions of dollars. The year 1856 was an exceptionally good 
one for slave traders. High prices were being paid and there was 
considerable money in circulation, and there seems to have been 
little vision of the rapidly approaching end of the South 's feudal 
aristocracy. On July 31, 1856, the Daily Picayune stated: 

There has been a greater demand for slaves in this city during 
the months of May, June and July than ever before, and they 
have commanded better prices during that time. This latter is 
an unusual thing, as the summer months are generally the 
dullest in the year for that description of property. Prime 
field hands (women) will now bring $1000 to $1100, and men 
from $1150 to $1500. Not long since a likely negro girl sold 
in this city at private sale for $1700. A large number of ne- 
groes are bought on speculation, and probably there is not less 
than $1,000,000 in town now seeking investment in such 

One of the features that helped make New Orleans unique 
among the great slave markets of the country was the custom of 
dressing up the slaves to be sold, it being said that 'nowhere 
else in the South did the promenade attain such glory as in New 
Orleans. Some of the traders kept a big, good-natured buck to 
lead the parade (of the slaves to be sold) and uniforms for both 
men and women, so that the high hats, the riot of white, pink, 
red and blue would attract the attention of prospective buy- 
ers. . . .' 

The following notice of the sale of a slave, quoted here from 
the Louisiana Historical Quarterly (Volume 10), reaches the height 
of callousness : 

The Slaves 227 

January LI, 1741 Petition to sell syphilitic slave. 

Sale of Attorney D'Ausseville reports that the negro 

Diseased Slave Hypolite belonging to Constilhas Estate has 

At close of been disabled for past eight months by vene- 

High Mass real disease now in its final phase. It would 

On Sunday cost a round sum to treat, feed and lodge him. 

Better discount his remnant value to heirs 

concerned by selling next Sunday at exit of 

High Mass rather than incur total loss of him 

by death. 

Judge Salmon assents and he is bought by 
Francois Seguier for 1080 livres. 

There is a friendly, come-browse-around-no-obligations-to- 
buy air to the following advertisement which appeared Novem- 
ber 18, 1859, m t ^ le Daily Delta: 


Just arrived with a large lot of Virginia and Maryland 
Negroes, which I offer cheap at my old stand, corner of Es- 
planade and Chartres Streets, and will be receiving fresh lots 
every month during the season. Call and see me before you 
purchase elsewhere. 


The Louisiana Gazette ', March 3, 1810, offered: 


For Sugar, Whiskey or Groceries of any description, several 
likely Negroes of all descriptions. For particulars inquire at 
the American Coffee House of 


Slaves were essential to the plantations, and as planters grew 
wealthier the numbers of their slaves increased accordingly. 
John McDonogh owned three hundred slaves, Julien Poydras 
nearly five hundred, and many others owned even more. Planta- 
tions such as Chatsworth, with fifty rooms, and Belle Grove, 
with seventy-five, gave occupations to numerous house servants, 
while their vast acreages required small armies of field hands. 

228 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Business corporations were large slave holders. The early 
railroad and gas companies in Louisiana maintained crews of 
Negroes for the laying of tracks, mains and for other sorts of 
labor. The first gas plant in New Orleans, built in 1834-35 by 
Caldwell, on the square bounded by Perdido, Gravier, Magnolia, 
and Robertson Streets (the latter two then called St. Marc and 
St. Marie), possessed a brick wall, one section of which en- 
closed living quarters for the slaves, wherein they were shut 
when not working. When business took a slump, the manage- 
ment of the New Orleans & Central Railroad stepped from under 
by leasing its slaves to Harper and Merrick, along with the bal- 
ance of its assets. Two slaves with notable names, 'America' 
and 'John Bull/ were sold at the board's order. A Doctor Carter 
of Carrollton was given free transportation in 1842, on the rail- 
road's cars 'for services to the slaves of the company.' 

Pending their disposal, slaves were held in barracoons, es- 
pecially assigned quarters, not peculiar to Louisiana, since they 
existed even in Washington. Many persons carried on a business 
of training Negroes, then selling them, even renting them to 
people who could not afford to buy. In the service of caterers, 
blacksmiths, carpenters and tradesmen of various sorts, slaves 
became proficient in many lines of work, thus selling or 
renting at better prices than as unskilled labor or as field 
hands. There were frequent advertisements such as this, from 
the Louisiana Gazette, December 10, 1805: 


A Steady active Negro Woman, for the purpose of cooking and 
washing, for Three Steady Bachelors!!! Enquire of the Editor. 

And if that one has a mysteriously humorous implication, it 
was surpassed by a paragraph in The Bee, June 2.4, 1835 
stated simply: 

The mayor has been singularly censured for refusing to allot 
6 negresses to each of the 8 commissaries of police; although 
not more than 6 are at his disposal. Our worthy mayor cannot 
increase and multiply negro wenches for the Alderman to dis- 
pose of ad libitum. 

The Slaves 229 

The Counter ', July 16, 1830, suggested another means of dis- 
posing of slaves, with: 


The Lottery of a Negress, made by Mr. Joseph Santo Domingo, 
will be drawn To-Morrow at 6 o'clock, P.M. at the office of 
Judge Preval. Persons who have not paid for their tickets, are 
requested to do so, either in cash or in bonds, as the tickets 
which shall not be paid, shall be disposed of. 

Though slavery in the South is usually interpreted as meaning 
white persons owning Negroes, the United States Census of 
1838 showed that 3777 free Negroes owned slaves throughout 
the nation. In Louisiana many prosperous free people of color 
purchased Negroes to serve as house servants or field hands. 
Occasionally, it is said, a free woman of color bought a slave 
out of pity for the creature's plight and out of racial sympathy, 
but in general the Negro master of other Negroes is reputed to 
have been the sternest of all slave owners . 

Much of the existing information regarding slave life on the 
plantations is stored in the aging minds of those few still living 
ex-slaves. Martha Jackson, who celebrated her one hundredth 
birthday in 1936, told this story of life 'before the wah': 

' We lived good,' Martha said. ' Don't never think we didn't. 
My white folkses was never mean or crabbish, and our boss man 
never did 'low nobody to mess wit' his slabes. He never did 
whop us . He called us ' ' his niggers, ' ' and the slabes on the plan- 
tation next door used to call us Mr. Cook's "free niggers." They 
was jest jealous, 'cause they got whopped and they didn't have 
nothin' like we did. 

'Our boss man let us have our church and our 'sociation. 
Twice a year he give us new clothes, at Christmas time and in 
July. Us used to sing when we worked and nobody said nothing. 
Us raised our own chickens and us had our vegetable patches, 
and 'sides the boss man give us sugar, flour, eggs, salt pork and 
stuff like that. When a woman had a baby she got lots of cotton 
to make quilts. And when the white folkses up at the Big House 
had a big dinner or a ball, they sent down all the food lef over 
and 'vided it 'mong us niggers. If a slabe got married like on 

230 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Saturday, the boss man get everybody together and we have a 
big feast and a dance/ 

Bongy Jackson, eighty-five in 1939, remembered his childhood 
as a slave, and recalled, ' We got milk and bread for breakfast, 
bread, greens, pot licker and peas for dinner, and bread, milk and 
'lasses for supper. We had clean beds with plenty of fresh sheets 
and pillowcases. My old Marse was so kindhearted he wouldn't 
hardly whip the niggers hisself. He used to call in the overseer 
from the plantation next door to do it.' 

'Marster and Mistress even nursed us when we was sick,' Jim 
Booker declared. ' We had good food and our own patch where 
we could raise things for ourselves. Some of them niggers even 
raised cotton for themselves. I knew one what raised enough 
working in the moonlight at night to make a whole bale. He 
sold it and Marster even let him keep the money. Sometimes I 
thunk I wanted to be free, but I got more to eat then than I do 

Slaves had various ways of addressing their owners. Creole 
slaves, speaking a French patois, called their master Maitre or 
Msieu Jean or whatever his first name happened to be. The 
mistress was Mattress, Madame or Mam\elle, or one of those 
titles and a first name. In families where there were several mar- 
ried sons, the wives would be addressed with one of those titles 
and their husbands' given names, such as Madame Jean or Madame 
Jules. English-speaking slaves used such terms as Massa, Mars- 
ter or Marse when addressing their owner. The mistress up at 
the Big House was usually Ole Miss or Missy. If there were two 
ladies, a mother and a daughter, for instance, they were Ole Miss 
and Young Miss, but it was always Ole Miss if there were but 
one, regardless of her age. And, if two, Young Miss remained 
Young Miss until she was old and whiteh aired, so long as Ole 
Miss were still alive. The slaves frequently assumed the sur- 
name of their first owner, and retained it when sold and resold 
to other planters. 

Each plantation had its own laws and work regulations. On 
a few places the slaves were set to shucking corn, or some other 
light chore on Saturdays and Sundays, but on most estates the 
two days were holidays for the Negroes. On the Sabbath, they 

The Slaves 231 

would garb themselves in their most prized finery and go to 
church . Many planters insisted on their human property attend- 
ing to its religious duties. 

'Our master better not catch us missin' church,' said ex-slave 
Catherine Cornelius. 'Saturday was the day we did our own 
washin', scwin', and cleaned up our cabins. If we was finished 
our tasks ahead of time we was free for the rest of the day. At 
Christmas time we got a week's holiday, but all slaves didn't 
get what we did. Doctor Lyle was good to us. At Christmas 
he always gived us presents and money.' 

Francis Doby remembered New Year's Day on the plantation 
where she spent her childhood. 

'On Christmas each little nigger hung his stockin' on the 
mantel in the Big House and he got a piece of peppermint, two 
candy hearts wit' writin' on 'em and a .blueback spellin' book; 
but New Year's Day was the day we liked. 

'On the mornin' of that day the Massa, he stand on his gallery 
and wit' a big trumpet he make noise like, "Ta ratata, ta 
ratata," and all us little coons come runnin'. Then he give us 
picayunes. 'Course we don't know nothin' 'bout picayunes, 
and there ain't no place to spend money on the plantation. All 
we do is turn it 'round in our hands and say, ' ' Look what Massa 
give me . A picayune . " Like that . Wasn ' t no candy or nothin ' 
to buy. Sometime the banana man or the dago man sellin' little 
cakes pass on the road, so we save it. I spent mine for bananas 
one time. Then after I et 'em I started to cry. My ma say, "What 
you cryin' for, honey?" I say, "I done spent my picayune, and 
I et my bananas. Now I ain't got nothin'." She say, "You is 
the craziest chile I ever knowed in my life!" 

Francis returned to Christmas. 

'We greeted everybody in the Big House wit' our yells, 1 she 
said. ' We'd yell "Christmas gif ! Christmas gif !" and we were 
all happy. Befo' dinner Massa give each of us a big glass 
of eggnog, and we sing, "Christmas comes but once a year an' 
everyone mus' have good cheer." Mos' the time all the colored 
peoples have turkeys and chickens, a real Christmas dinner.' 

Slaves were valuable property and the owner of any intelli- 
gence provided adequately for their physical welfare. The larger 

2 32 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

estates operated hospitals for those who were ill. Trinity Plan- 
tation, for example, maintained two white physicians on its 
payroll, Doctors Stone and Baillot, whose duties were to attend 
the slaves when ill. Often, on smaller plantations, the mistress 
personally cared for sick Negroes. Nurseries were often pro- 
vided for small children and were cared for by the older Ne- 
gresses, so that the mothers of the youngsters might work in the 
fields. Women in childbirth received careful attention in most 
cases, for each new child increased the planter's wealth. 

Small slaves were sometimes assigned jobs like those of shell- 
ing peas and beans in the kitchen garden, or assisting in the 
kitchen. At times boys in their teens, especially if intelligent 
or light-colored, were indented out to tradesmen. The Orleans 
Daily Delta, August iz, 185 z, offered 'One Cent Reward' for 
Francis or Franklin Allen, a runaway apprentice, ' a good bar- 
tender, about fourteen, fair and blue-eyed.' Perhaps the ab- 
surdly small reward indicated a secret hope on someone's part 
that he had made good his escape? ta. 

Newborn children of planters were assigned slaves at their 
birth, a woman for a girl, a colored youth for a boy. Often the 
attachments endured through life, the Negress remaining the 
girl's 'Mammy' for the balance of her days, the Negro serving 
his young master as valet, and aging into one of the beloved 
' Uncles' of which so much has been written. Many of the latter 
even followed their masters into the firing lines of the War Be- 
tween the States. Slaves presented as wedding gifts to brides 
were usually proud of the honor, boasted of raising ' the chillun' 
resulting from the marriage. 

Treatment accorded slaves varied in proportion to the per- 
sonal disposition of their owners, but slaves were financial in- 
vestments and aside from any particular virtue, planters were 
business men and cared neither to destroy their property nor to 
hamper the operation of the estates. Flogging, usually admin- 
istered by an overseer or driver, was common, but it must be con- 
sidered that all punishment of this period was more severe than 
it is supposed to be now; white people were harsher to their own 
race, prisons, asylums, even mental institutions, being rife with 
brutality. Unfortunately, though, there are a great many tales 
of sadistic cruelty inflicted on slaves by their masters. 

The Slaves 

George Blisset, reared a slave, remembered, 'On our planta- 
tion the overseer used to line up all the young nigger men every 
Monday morning and give 'em a few lashes over their backs. 
He said niggers wasn't no good on Mondays 'less they had a 
little taste of the whip. They had too much of an easy time on 
Sunday, he said. He wanted to get 'em started with a 'termina- 
tion to work.' 

'Lots of folks was real mean,' said Francis Doby. "Like I 
said, they was always good to us at my place, but other places 
I knows it was jest whippin', whippin', whippin' all the time. 
My ma once belonged to Massa De Gruy and he was sure a hard 
man. My ma was hardheaded and sassy, and she'd talk right 
back to anybody, Massa or nobody. Lots of times she got a bull- 
whip on her nekkid back/ 

Charity Parker, about twelve or fourteen when freedom came, 
swears she never saw a slave whipped in her life, but she heard 
of many such instances. 'Maybe I gettin' old,' she said, 'but I 
know this, I sho' never did see any nigger whipped, but I knows, 
too, lots of 'em was.' 

'My ma died when I was about eleven years old,' said Janie 
Smith. 'Old Marse was mean to her. Whip her all the time. 
Made her work on the fields the very day she had a baby, and 
she borned the baby right out in the cotton patch and died. Old 
Marse couldn't stand for his slaves gettin' educated, either. If 
he so much as caught one with a paper or pencil, trying to learn 
how to write, he'd beat him half to death. People didn't want 
niggers to learn nothin' in them days.' 

John McDonald told a similar story, saying, 'My boss man 
catch any nigger with a book or a pencil it was twenty-five 

Slaves were punished for lying, laziness, insolence, stealing, 
being late for work, and for various moral infringements. Plant- 
ers usually punished Negresses for associating with low-caste 
white men. Nothing much has been said about their association 
with high-caste white men. 

Elizabeth Ross Hite remembered seeing Negroes put into 
stocks, though the time slaves spent in these contraptions has 
undoubtedly been exaggerated in her memory. 

2 34 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

'They put in their hands and feets and 'buckle 'em so they 
couldn't move and they'd stay there for months and months. I 
never did see no massa hang his niggers like some peoples say, 
but maybe they did. Most of the mean massas would just have 
a driver tie a nigger up to a tree, nekkid, and beat him to death 
with a whip. I seen 'em do that.' 

It was always the driver or overseer's job to flog the slaves. 
Sometimes a driver did not like to lash Negroes, so he would 
tie them up, pop his whip a few times, and instruct the victim to 
yell, so the planter, who might be within hearing distance, 
would think his instructions were being followed. 

'That nigger would holler jest like he was being beat bad,' 
said Bongy Jackson. ' I recollect one time a Massa come out the 
house and told the driver to stop. He thought that coon was 
gittin* whipped to death, and that nigger ain't never been 

Sometimes resourcefulness was required to administer punish- 
ment. When a pregnant woman was to be whipped it was the 
custom to dig a hole in the ground, then spread-eagle her, face 
downward, so that her abdomen would fit into the hole. Then 
the whip was applied. 

'I seen that lots of times,' said Odee Jackson, aged ninety- 
three. 'They'd dig a hole for that poor soul's belly 'cause they 
didn't want her child to get hurted. It worth money. Then 
they would beat her 'til her back was a mass of blood. After 
that they'd rub salt into it, or throw a bucket of salt and water 
over her. Sure they done that. I seen 'em.' 

The lashes given a slave during a flogging might be ten or 
fifty or two hundred or at least there is evidence to that effect. 
Of course two hundred blows usually meant a death sentence if 
administered at one time, so such a sentence was nearly always 
meted out twenty-five or fifty blows on different dates. 

It is said that a certain Mr. Reau used to hang incorrigible 
slaves in the woods near his plantation. There is a legend that 
Reau died in a most peculiar fashion. One morning he began to 
jump up and down in his bed, was at last suspended in midair, 
eyes and tongue protruding. He had every appearance of having 
been hanged. 

The Slaves -2-55 

Perhaps the crudest master in Louisiana was M. Valsin Mer- 
million. One of his punishments was to place a slave in a coffin- 
like box, stood on end, in which nails were placed in such a way 
that the creature was unable to move. He was powerless even 
to chase flies and ants crawling on some portions of his body. 
Mermillion prided himself on possessing only slaves with fine 
physiques. It is said that once he purchased an extraordinarily 
splendid young Black, and immediately ordered him hitched to 
the plow. When the boy refused to perform such an order, never 
having done such work, Mermillion had him dig his own 
grave, stood him in the hole and shot him with his own hand. 

The Black Code was sometimes invoked in cases of unneces- 
sary cruelty, though it is highly probable that ascertainment of 
guilt was difficult. The Weekly Picayune, July 19, 1844, contained 
a protest against one such case, however, in the following 
article : 


The most revolting spectacle we have ever looked upon was 
the case of two slaves belonging to a free man of color, named 
Etienne Fortin, who lives on Melpomene Street; the one a boy 
of fourteen, the other a girl of eighteen years of age. They had 
been beaten and lacerated in a most brutal manner, by their 
master. A gentleman who happened to be passing Fprtin's 
house, yesterday evening discovered the slaves in the yard 
chained to a log, and suffering the most excruciating tor- 
ture. . . . 

Bienville established the Black Code in 172.4, and it contained 
fifty-three specific regulations regarding the care, treatment, in- 
struction and general conduct of slaves and freed Negroes, fol- 
lowing the first provision, which called for expulsion of Jews 
from the Colony. Another law specified that all Negroes held 
in slavery must be baptized in the faith of the Roman Catholic 
Church. Aside from these examples of intolerance and bigotry 
most of the other laws were designed for the betterment of the 
relationship between slave and master. Provision was made for 
aged slaves and hospitalization for those in any way incapaci- 
tated. No work was allowed on Sundays and holidays. Mass 

2 $ 6 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

meetings and fraternization among slaves on different plantations 
was outlawed. Rigid rulings were set up forbidding miscegena- 
tion, amalgamation, forced marriages or breeding, and marriages 
between slaves of different masters. Excessive cruelty by slave 
owners was condemned, slave purchases were restricted and 
slaves' use of firearms sternly prohibited. The separation of 
families, especially the parting of children under fourteen years 
of age from their mothers, was discouraged. And although a 
slave's testimony was of no value in court, a trial was assured 
such persons except where infidelity to a master was involved. 

Penalties for violations of the Black Code were extremely 
brutal according to our standards. First offenders had their ears 
cut off and were branded on one shoulder with a fleur-de-lis; sec- 
ond offenders were hamstrung and their one shoulder branded. 
Third offenders were executed. 

Carlyle Stewart, ex-slave, said, 'My Missus and Marse was 
both cruel. Every nigger on the place had whip scars on his 
back. My Grandma run away and when they brung her back 
she got whipped and ol' Marse had her shoulder branded with a 
redhot iron. I seen him put a woman's eye out with a fork, just 
because she talked back to him. He'd take men and hitch 'em to 
plows like mules. The drivers would come through the quarters 
at night and check on who was missin'. God help them what 
was ! They'd git one hundred and fifty to two hundred licks with 
a whip.' 

The Louisiana Gazette carried a notice on June z}, 1810: 

Yesterday afternoon a negro man was executed in the rear of 
the city. He was found guilty of assaulting his master with an 
intent to kill, and is the first example in this parish under the 
Black Code. 

The following notice from The Weekly Delta, March 30, 1846, 
was probably intended to be a cynical comment on public execu- 

Today the citizens of New Orleans may have the opportunity 
of enjoying themselves in witnessing the public strangulation 
of a black woman. 

As this exhibition is one of great interest and of rare occur- 

The Slaves 

rence, we presume that it will draw together a large crowd of 
spectators men, women and children; black, white and 
yellow who will attend for the sole purpose of strengthen- 
ing their moral principles, increasing their detestation of 
crime, and enabling them hereafter more firmly to resist the 
temptations of sin. 

One of the best known stories of cruelty to slaves is the famous 
case of Madame LaLaurie in New Orleans' Vieux Carre. Few 
visitors to that section have not heard the sensational tale. One 
day Madame 's house caught fire, and those who entered to ex- 
tinguish the flames found seven slaves, variously mutilated, 
chained to the wall in an upper room. One woman had been 
kept on her knees so long she could no longer stand. Another, a 
man, had a horrible gaping wound in his head and 'his body 
was covered with scars filled with worms.' So infuriated was 
the citizenry of New Orleans that a mob quickly gathered out- 
side the mansion, threatening violence and bodily harm to the 
lovely and socially prominent Delphine LaLaurie. Suddenly, 
says the story, the gates swung wide and a swaying carriage 
drawn by plunging horses dashed through the crowd, escaping 
out the Bayou Road and vanishing. Other versions of the tale 
picture Madame as a much maligned and entirely innocent vic- 
tim of spite and gossip, and brand the whole story as the falsi- 
fication of an envious relative and neighbor. 

Occasionally it seems a slave reversed the conditions, and 
meted out brutality to the master or mistress. Perhaps the most 
startling case of this sort recorded was brought out in the court 
trial of a slave known as Pauline in New Orleans. Pauline is 
described as having been a statuesque quadroon beauty with 
flashing black eyes and pale golden skin, with whom her master 
had become violently infatuated. The mistress of the house and 
her three children were found one day, by police officers, in a 
cabinet in the home, naked and starving, and covered with scars 
of beatings and burnings. The wife related a story of how her 
husband had forced her to watch his lovemaking with the 
Negress, who had entirely usurped her place in the home; then 
how, while the husband was away, Pauline had imprisoned her 
and the children and tortured them with live coals, a white-hot 

2)8 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

poker and a whip, refusing them any food and scarcely any 
water. Pauline was" tried under the Black Code and subse- 
quently hanged, five thousand persons witnessing her end. 

The clothes worn by the plantation slaves were simple. Men 
usually wore loose blouses and pantaloons, and sometimes ker- 
chiefs about their heads and necks. The present-day Negro's 
habit of wearing an old stocking on his head may have come 
down from this custom, though now it is usually done for pur- 
poses of ' hair-straightening.' Women wore full gathered skirts 
and tight bodices, sometimes adding spotless white neckerchiefs, 
aprons and tignons. This headgear is said to have been brought 
to Louisiana from Martinique and San Domingo, and evidence 
of this is borne out by the old family portraits of beautiful 
women with Madras handkerchiefs bound about their heads. 
White women discontinued wearing the tignon in 1786, when a 
legal manifesto was issued, designating this headdress as the 
only one that might be worn by free women of color. These 
women, many of them beautiful and perfectly white in appear- 
ance, had caused so much disturbance in the Colony by attract- 
ing the attention of white men, that the law was issued, barring 
them from wearing hats or plumes or jewels, and designed to 
render them less attractive. It is said, however, that the tignons 
increased their beauty and made them more appealing than ever ! 

Slave footwear was usually made on the plantations. Cather- 
ine Cornelius remembered, somewhat vaguely, that, 'the slaves' 
shoes was heavy worked shoes.' Trinity Plantation had a shoe- 
maker's shop and a cobbler, a free man of color, who tanned the 
leather and made the shoes. Pierre Landreaux, one of the wealth- 
iest of Louisiana planters, imported the shoes from France. 
Charity Parker boasted, ' One thing I gotta hand my marse. He 
sure done give us good shoes for our feets . ' 

'Possum hunting was one of the chief causes for slaves violat- 
ing plantation regulations. Negroes could not resist the urge to 
go on these nocturnal expeditions. Drivers and the night patrols 
were constantly on the alert to prevent this, but without much 
success. When the animal was being cooked, the Negroes would 
close all openings in the cabin where the feast was being pre- 
pared ' to keep the smell from leakin' out.' If the drivers caught 

The Slaves 239 

a whiff of roasting 'possum, it was bad for the offenders. A gen- 
eral whipping would probably be administered. 

"Possums?' said West Chapman, ex-slave. 'Sure, we ate 
plenty of 'em. We'd clean 'em and wash 'em, parboil 'em, then 
roast them fellows on hot coals 'long side sweet potatoes. You 
could dry 'em, too, by smokin' 'em like hams. 

'We made persimmon beer, too,' continued West. 'Jest stuck 
our persimmons in a keg with two or three gallons of water and 
sweet potato peelings and some hunks of corn bread and left it 
there until it began to work. It sure is good to drink 'long with 
cracklin* bread and potatoes.' 

Slave weddings were usually held on Saturday nights and cele- 
brated with a feast and a dance. There was no fixed procedure 
regarding the marriage of slaves. Sometimes they were joined 
merely by the consent of the master. Jordan Wingate said, ' My 
woman and me just made an agreement.' Elizabeth Ross Hite 
said, ' My master would say to two peoples what wanted to get 
married, "Come on, darky, jump over this here broom and call 
yourself man and wife." So many went to the master, Eliza- 
beth said, that she has always believed it was because they re- 
ceived presents. Sometimes there was a preacher and a real mar- 
riage. ' It was jest like peoples today,' she declared. ' The bride 
wore all the trimmin's, a veil and a wreath, and carried a bou- 
quet and all.' Bongy Jackson attended her parents' wedding 
and can't understand that this amazes people. ' During slavery, ' 
said Bongy, 'us niggers jest jumped the broom wit' the master's 
consent. After the Cibil War, soon's they got a little ole piece 
of money they got a preacher and had a real weddin'. My ma 
dressed like a bride an' all, an' she done already had nine chil- 
dren by my pa. All us kids was there an' we sure had us a fine 

Preacher or no preacher, marriage among slaves frequently 
lasted through life, and if an occasion presented itself there 
seems to have always existed a willingness to have the relation- 
ship legalized. Any occasion such as a marriage called for a big 
celebration with feasting and dancing that lasted all through the 

'We had plenty of good times,' said Catherine Cornelius. 

240 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

' Don't you think we didn't. We had singin', dancin' and vistin' 
'mong ourselves on the plantation. Every big plantation was 
like a little ole nigger town, there was so many of us. The 
slaves had lots of fun in their quarters, I don't care what peoples 
say. They played guitar and used a barrel with a skin over it for 
a drum. They sure talked about the master's business in the 
quarters, too.' 

The slaves were often summoned to the Big House to sing and 
dance the buck and wing for guests. Here they were given 
drinks and food. 

'Them smart-alec niggers'd make the white folks yell wit' 
laughin' at their crazy antics,' said ex-slave Dan Barton. ' You 
know a nigger is jest a born show-offer. They'd dance the buck 
and wing and another step nobody does any more. It went two 
steps to the right, two steps to the left. The womens shake their 
skirts and the mens dance 'round them. Let me tell you, niggers 
was all right on the plantations . I never seen no whippin ' . Half 
that stuff you hear ain't true at all.' 

But George Blisset said, ' Our marster couldn't stand noise. Us 
slaves used get together in one of the houses in the quarter and 
take a big iron pot with three laigs the kind you use for 
killin' hawgs and dance and sing around that, and there 
wouldn't be no noise could be heard, 'cause all the noise go right 
into the pot. Us held balls by candlelight, though they was 
strickly against orders. If they catched us we got whipped. We 
couldn't look tired next day, either. First thing ole driver's say 
was that we was up late the night before, and he sure lay that 
bull whip on our nekkid skin.' 

The fact that punishment was risked on some plantations 
might have inspired the singing of: 

Whip or whop, whip or whop, you-ee, 
We gonna sing and dance and sing, 
Whip or whop, whip or whop, you-ee! 
Singin', singin' and dancin', you-ec, 
Dancin', singin' and dancin', you-ee, 
Whip or whop, whip or whop, you-ee! 

Charity Parker said, ' Saturday was our day. Sunday we had 

The Slaves 241 

to go to church. When I was young I didn't care 'bout no 
church, but I could sure beat them feets on the floor. We had no 
music, but we beat, "Bourn! Bourn! Doum! Doum! Doum!" 
One day a old man we called Antoine say, "I'm gonna make 
you-all a drum what'll beat, 'Bourn! Bourn! Bourn!' Wait 'til 
Massa kill a cow." You see, they only keep that old man 
'round to play with the children, 'cause he was too old to do 
any work. 

' Well, he get that hide and he make us a drum. He straddle 
that drum and beat on it, and fust thing you know we was all 
a-dancing and a-beating the floor with our feets. Chile, we 
dance 'til midnight. To finish the ball we say, " Balance?. Ca- 
linda!" , and then we twist and turn, and holler again, " Balance-^ 
Calinda!" , and turn 'round again. Then the ball was over.' 

Slave balls seem to have grown in number, and though oper- 
ated with a certain amount of secrecy, at last aroused the ire of 
the white population. On May zz, 1860, Le Vigilant, a news- 
paper, published the following angry letter, given here in part : 

For the last two or three months, the balls for white persons 
have given place to balls and parties for negroes. When a new 
house is built, following an old custom, it is christened by our 
slaves having a grand ball at night in the building. Twice, to 
my knowledge, this ' privileged' class has given a ball so close 
to our Donaldsonville Ballroom that I nearly walked right 
into their place, and was only stopped by hearing the dis- 
cordant notes of the violin, which I knew could hardly come 
from our own orchestra. 

Besides the Balls, our slaves have musicals at night, mixed 
with games and round dances, etc. . . . 

Mr. Editor how can this state of things go on, in the face of 
an Act of Legislature and ordinances of the Police Jury, and 
the laws of Donaldsonville, prohibiting negro assemblies at 
night? . . . 

Watermelon feasts and fish fries were of course popular among 
slaves, as they still are with Negroes, though today they are 
usually used as a means toward raising funds for church or per- 
sonal use. 

The slave was forced, in most cases, to adopt the religious be- 

~ Gumbo Ya-Ya 

liefs of his master, and did superficially. Under French and 
Spanish owners the Blacks were baptized Roman Catholic in 
practically every instance, while under American masters, usu- 
ally Protestant, they were christened whatever denomination 
their particular owner professed. But under the thin veneer of 
Christianity African fetish worship and voodooism continued 
to flourish for a long time, until there came about the queer 
blending of Christianity and voodooism still common among 
some Negroes today. 

Catherine Cornelius said, ' We was all christened in the church. 
We wasn't never dipped in no river like some peoples was. The 
church we belonged to was the 'Piscopalian Church.' 

Elizabeth Ross Hite added her bit on this subject, declaring, 
' We was all supposed to be Catholics on our place, but lots didn't 
like that 'ligion. We used to hide behind some bricks and hold 
church ourselves. You see, the Catholic preachers from France 
wouldn't let us shout, and the Lawd done said you gotta shout 
if you want to be saved. That's in the Bible.' 

Elizabeth continued, 'Sometimes we held church all night 
long, 'til way in the mornin'. We burned some grease in a can 
for the preacher to see the Bible by, and one time the preacher 
caught fire. That sure caused some commotion. Bible started 
burnin', and the preacher's coat caught. That was ole Mingo. 
And ole Mingo's favorite text was "Pure gold tried by fire." I 
always say that Mingo must've had to be tried hisself, else 
the Lawd wouldn't made him be catched on fire quick like 

'Next day everybody was late to work, and everybody who 
was got whipped by the drivers. See, our master didn't like us 
to have too much 'ligion, said it made us lag in our work. He 
jest wanted us to be Catholicses on Sundays and go to mass and 
not study 'bout nothin' like that on week days. He didn't want 
us shoutin' and moanin' all day 'long, but you gotta shout and 
you gotta moan if you wants to be saved. 

'We used to have baptisms in a pond by the sugar house. 
Everybody was anxious to get baptized and be saved. The 
preacher would yell, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!", and the nig- 
gers would sing, 

The Slaves 2 4 $ 

I baptize you in the fibber Jordan, 

I baptize you in the ribber Jordan, 

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah, Lord! 

Children, come a-runnin', 

Children, come a-runnin', 

I baptize you in the ribber Jordan. . . . 

' One old sister wanted to be saved one time and the preacher 
told her he was willing to save her, but first she's gotta prove 
to the Lawd that she was in a position to be saved. You know, 
when they checked on that old gal, they done found out she was 
the biggest rascal and worstest witch on the plantation. She was 
so bad even the mens didn't want her, and that is somethin'. 
When no man don't want you, you is really nothin*. 

' It was too late to save her. She was really a lost soul, heavy 
wit' sin and bound for Hell. It used to make us all so sad. You 
know, when we saved a sister there was glory in our hearts. 
When she was baptized, the crowd would shout, " Thank Gawd! 
There goes Sister Amy! I been prayin' for this night on to two 
years now! Bless Gawd! She is saved at last. Her sins are 
washed away!" 

There was another factor beside the white folks' religion 
which did much to weaken the hold of fetishism and voodooism 
on the Negro. This was the belief in good-luck and bad-luck 
amulets and charms, and the traveling fortune teller and peddler 
who preyed upon those who held belief in these things. One of 
these peddlers, mentioned in the Daily True Delta, May 2.9, 1851, 
tried to induce slaves females to steal from their masters 
and run away with him. The Delta said: 

The slave William belonging to the estate of Creswell was 
yesterday committed in the Fourth District ... on a charge of 
having tried to induce two colored women to run away from 
their master. The girls were brought up to testify, and the 
development made was of a rather novel character. One was 
a young and fine looking wench, who stirred up the hot blood 
of the accused. He gave her a ' brass copper,' which she was to 
put in a little bag and wear it around her body. She was also 
told to bruise some garlic and wear it in her shoes. This was 


Gumbo Ya-Ya 

to give good luck in general, and the copper was to insure the 
kindness of the whites. . . . 

She was also to throw whatever she could find in the house 
in the shape of money, plate, clothing, etc., outside the fence 
where he could find them. Of this a fund was to be raised 
wherewith to procure free papers from a Frenchman residing in 
New Orleans. With these they were to wend their way to 
Washington, thence to Liverpool, after which they were to 
visit the court of Louis Napoleon. . . . 

William received fifty lashes and was sentenced to wear an iron 
collar for one year. 

Death during slavery times was of the same importance to the 
Louisiana Negro as it is today, and funerals possessed many of 
the same festive aspects. Most of the larger plantations had a 
special coffinmaker. 

'I can still recollect my ma's funeral/ said Catherine Cor- 
nelius. 'They sure give her a nice one. The preacher on the 
place, Brother Aaron, was a cane cutter, and when anybody died, 
they done let him off from the fields to preach the funeral. . We 
had our own buryin' grounds a good piece in the back of the 
plantation. We didn't have no headstones, but we used to plant 
willow trees to know the place where one of our relatives was 
buried. All the coffins was made on the place, and they was 
plain wooden boxes, but nicely made. The bodies was carried 
off in the carts and the others walked. When anybody died all 
the slaves were let off from work to go to the funeral. Some- 
times the people come down from the Big House, and if it w r as 
some nigger they like, they cry, too.' 

The New Orleans Weekly Delta , September 16, 1853, gives the 
following description of the burial of a devoted slave who was 
burned to death: 

A more solemn and affecting sight than the funeral procession 
which followed this poor slave to his everlasting home, we 
have never witnessed. The coffin was placed in a magnificent 
hearse; there were twenty-four pall-bearers, and then followed 
about four hundred slaves, all dressed with the utmost neat- 
ness. . . . This poor slave was well cared for, even to the last. 
His body was thrown into no common trench with indecent 

The Slaves 245 

haste, but was quietly placed in a brick tomb, which would 
have satisfied the affections of the most fastidious mourning 
friend that any token of regard and respect had been paid. . . . 

Elizabeth Ross Kite says that at Trinity Plantation there was 
a preacher, the Reverend Jacob Nelson, a slave who spoke five 
languages. He was 'educated jest like white folks,' explained 
Elizabeth, 'and went around growlin', cryin', talkin' in them 
languages what nobody can understand. People didn't know 
what he was a-sayin', but the crowd went wild. It was jest like 
a picnic when the Reverend Nelson preach a funeral; some people 

But there's another side to the story, too. 

' Mind, what I tell you,' Cecile George said. ' I tell you what 
I seen wit' my own two eyes. The people on the plantation they 
take sick and they die. Ain't no coffin for them. They take 
planks and nail them together like a chicken coop. You could 
see through it. And it's too short, the neck's too long. So a 
man stand up on the coffin, jump on the corpse, break his neck 
and his head fall on his chest. Then they nail the top and one 
nail go through the brain. You think I make that up or dream 
it? I seen that wit' mine own eyes. 

' Then they put them in a wagon the one they haul the 
manure in, nobody wit' them. The people have to go right on 
to work. Make no difference it your own father, you gotta go 
out in the fields that day. I seen that wit' my own eyes. It was 
wicked! Wicked! Wicked! Wicked! And I seen it wit* my 
own eyes.' 

Yet, despite the tales of inhumanity of masters to the slaves, 
there is every reason to believe there were few actual cases of 
excessive and extreme cruelty. Without a doubt, the affection 
directed toward his owner by many a slave was a deep and im- 
perishable thing. The loyalty and fidelity of the household 
servant, in particular, were often unquestionable. The mam- 
mies, for instance, practically ruled the Big Houses. Mammy 
was always a more than competent cook, and a second mother 
to the planter's children. Indeed, in many cases, she was prob- 
ably closer to the youngsters than their own mother. Mammy 
was so integrally a part of the family that she was lifted far above 
the other servants. 

246 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

During the war Mammy Marianne baked cookies each week 
and trudged overland through the woods to an army camp on 
the Mississippi River to deliver them to her 'boy,' one of the 
Confederate officers. Mammy Nancy lived all her life with no 
other religion than the innate goodness in her own big heart, 
yet, at their request, she received Holy Communion in the Ro- 
man Catholic Church, kneeling beside three generations of her 
'babies.' Old Mammy July, when photographed at 119 years 
of age, maintained her dignity, even though only four feet tall 
and entirely bald, by wearing five hats telescoped together and 
tied on with a scarf, saying, 'I ain't no Mardy Graw, white 
folks!' At izo, probably the oldest living woman in the United 
States, Mammy July trudged from New Roads, Louisiana to 
Baton Rouge, to visit her ' chillun,' members of the Lorio family 
there. But there are few living mammies of the old type left 
now, and soon there will be no more of these grand persons on 
whose capacious bosoms the South at one time found peace and 
comfort and security. 

There were remarkable instances of slaves rising in the world, 
despite their seemingly insurmountable handicaps. 

William Cooper, owned by Alonzo Roberts, near Cheney ville, 
while hired out to J. A. McCormick, earned not only his own 
freedom but that of his bride also. His employer allowed him 
to work overtime in order to earn the money. After being free 
he continued the work at wages because he had been attracted by 
a girl on a neighboring plantation. He saved one thousand dol- 
lars, borrowed five hundred dollars, bought her and married her. 
Later he purchased the freedom of his brother and was saving 
money to free the rest of his family when the Civil War emanci- 
pated them. When Cooper and his wife died they owned consid- 
erable property, and they willed their estate to members of the 
family which had formerly owned them. 

The intelligence and determination of James Derham, a slave, 
made him one of the outstanding physicians of his day. Born in 
Philadelphia in 1762., he quickly learned to read and write, and, 
while helping his master, a doctor, compound medicines, ab- 
sorbed much of the profession. He was sold to Doctor George 
West, a surgeon in the Sixteenth British Regiment during the 



Mother Catherine's grave and statue 

Statue of Jehovah made by Mother Catherine 

Mother Maude Shannon, leader of a popular cult of today 

When the "Mother" of a cult dies she is often buried with a crown on her head 
Courtesy of Michael Kirk 

The Slaves ^ 24 j 

Revolutionary War, who aided him in furthering his medical 
studies. Then, at the close of that war, he was sold to Doctor 
Robert Love of New Orleans, who encouraged his studies and 
eventually freed him on very liberal terms. As a doctor in New 
Orleans he became so proficient that he enjoyed an income of 
several thousand dollars a year, amazing for a man reared as a 
slave. Of a modest and engaging personality, Derham spoke 
French fluently and possessed some knowledge of Spanish. 

The slave often resorted to superstition and queer homemade 
remedies for the treatment of his own ills. Warts were rubbed 
with wedding rings, mud and tobacco juice piled on bee-stings. 
Fresh mint was eaten to ' sweeten the stomach,' bay-leaf tea ad- 
ministered for cramps, and a cow's tooth was suspended from a 
string around the baby's neck to aid teething. 

' When we had rheumatism, we took an Irish potato, cut it up 
in pieces, and tied it 'round the pain,' recalled West Chapman. 
1 It always cured, too. Potatoes was also tied 'round the waist 
for the same purpose.' Rubbing with lotions made of alligator 
fat, buzzard grease, or rattlesnake oil, wearing a brass ring or a 
hatband or belt made of snakeskin were also effective for treat- 
ment of rheumatism, according to West. He added that 'hog- 
hoof, parched and ground into dust, dissolved in water, moved 
pain.' Jimson weed was given children for worms. 'It was 
cooked down like 'lasses and it was good tasting like candy.' 
West concluded, 'But nobody uses things like that no more. 
Everything has to come out a drugstore. I can't understand it.' 

4 1 used to know a ole Democrat what didn't like colored 
people,' said Cecile George^ 'He wouldn't look at us when he 
spoke. Said a nigger, a dog, and a alligator was the same to him. 
His name was Mr. Jerry and his wife's name was Mrs. Jerry. 

' Yellow fever was ragin' and Mrs. Jerry took wit' it. She was 
really a good woman, 'cept she had married Mr. Jerry. He 
called in Doctor Levere, then the doctor, he took wit' it, too. 
Mrs. Jerry, she call me and I went to her bed. She say, "Oh, 
Cecile, I'm sick. Make me some of that tea of yours. ' ' But I was 
scared of Mr. Jerry, and I wouldn't do it 'cause I know how that 
man didn't like niggers or nigger medicine. But I prayed and 
somethin' told me, "Trust God, and make that poor woman 

248 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

some tea. " So I went out and got me some grass what I use, got 
some Indian root, boiled it all down, and made me that tea. I 
give it to Mrs. Jerry, but at first she won't sweat, then I cover 
her up some more and she start. You know she sweat that fever 
all out right there? And wit' God's help I pulled her through, 
and got her on her feets. She lived a long time. Doctor Levere, 
he went crazy, died in a 'sylum. Mr. Jerry, he died and went to 
Hell. His spirit used to come back in the daytime in the shapes 
of bulldogs. Haunted everybody for a long time.' 

Slaves made black pepper tea for smallpox. 'It'd pull all the 
bumps in and not leave no scars or nothing like that,' vowed 
Emily White. Cornshucks, boiled down into a tea, were also 
used for that once prevalent disease. Lizzie Chandler, ex-slave, 
recalled this, also that 'when a person couldn't stop hiccough- 
ing, all you had to do was to make him smell sneezeweed. He 
sure start sneezing then and not hiccough no more.' Red pepper 
tea was administered for chills and fever, as was peach-tree leaf 
tea. 'Bird-eye vine is good for croup,' said Lizzie, 'dry it an' 
give it to a baby in his milk.' Swamp lilies were dried and 
strung around a baby's neck for teething. 

Of course charms against voodoo and witchcraft were worn, 
as they are today. 'Little bags wit' somethin' made out of red 
flannel,' were recalled by George Sanders, who added that they 
contained bones of a black cat and similar items. 

The slave never knew when a voodoo woman or a witch doc- 
tor was on his trail. Victims suffered from shooting pains caused 
by needles, wads of hair, knives, pebbles, and such evil gris-gris 
concealed somewhere about their homes. Even their deaths 
might be brought about this way. A voodoo woman could 
put a snake in your leg and that reptile would probably remain 
there for the rest of your life. 

'I've had a ole snake in my laig all my life,' swore Clara 
Barton. 'It's been better these last years, but at fust it like to 
drove me crazy. I can still feel that thing, though. Had a bad 
woman come after my man back on the plantation. One night 
she snuck in my room and stuck that snake in my laig. I felt it 
and I screamed, but it was too late. The room was dark and I 
couldn't see her, but I heard her paddin' over the floor, going 

The Slaves 


through the door. She left that door creakin' and swingin'. 
When my ma woke up and run in the room I was jest lay in' on 
the floor yellin' in the dark, and that door was still creakin' and 
swingin', creakin' and swingin'.' 

'I don't believe in no hoodoo at all,' declared Bongy Jackson. 
'One time one of my nephews got into police trouble, and a 
woman come to my house and say if I pay her she could help me 
with hoodoo. I give that woman some of my money and the 
best ham we have in the smokehouse, and she give me a paper 
with some writing on it and some kind of powder in it and some- 
thin' what looked like a root dried up. She told me to send 'em 
to that boy and tell him to chew the root in the courtroom durin' 
his trial, and to hold the piece of paper in his hand, and to spit 
on it now and then when the judge wasn't lookin'. I did all 
that and he did all that, and that boy go to jail just the same. 
No, I don't believe in no hoodoo.' 

Good and bad luck played prominent parts in the common, 
everyday life of the plantation. Slaves planted sweet basil on 
either side of the cabin door. The screech of an owl was a death 
sign, while for a spider or a butterfly to light on a person was a 
good omen. Cowpeas and hog jowl served on New Year's Day 
would guarantee plenty to eat all during the ensuing year. Keep- 
ing a 'frizzly' chicken around the house alleviated all bad luck. 

'We called sweet basil by another name,' explained Francis 
Doby. 'We called it basilique, and it sure was good to have 
'round the house. They is got two kinds of basilique, you know, 
the papa plant what's got them long thin leaves, and the mamma 
plant, what's got fat round leaves. You got to put 'em both in 
the ground at the same time so they'll get together and grow. 
And when you got them in your yard you sure is got good luck 
for yourself all the year 'round.' 

'Pickin* up tracks' caused great consternation among slaves. 
If anyone was seen picking up the dust of footprints in a hand- 
kerchief, it meant that 'a stumblin' block is sure gwine be put 
in somebody's way.' 

Of course many slaves believed implicitly in witches. 'A 
witch,' said Elizabeth Ross Kite, 'is like a big turkey wit' no 
eyes. Sometimes, they looks like the Devil, wit' horns and 

2$ o - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Even the faithful mammy was not above resorting to witch- 
craft to gain her wishes. According to the Times-Democrat of 
August 5, 1888, the attention of a household was one day at- 
tracted to the antics of old Aunt Dolores. The woman, during a 
thunderstorm, was seen anxiously searching the house for some- 
thing, then to run out into the yard, still hunting. ' Hither and 
thither she ran,' stated the article, 'in rapid quest, until at last 
she stumbled upon the object of her search, no less a thing than 
an axe for chopping wood ... a bright expression of joy irradi- 
ated her face.' Snatching up the axe, Aunt Dolores sped into a 
corner of the yard, and raising it above her head, ' she made pass 
after pass in the very face of the rushing current, as if chopping 
some invisible thing quickly in twain.' When a sudden abating 
of the wind's violence was noticed, the woman marched back 
into the house, wearing a defiant look of triumph on her rugged 
dark face. She had defied the evil spirit of the storm; it dared 
not advance against her sharp-edged axe. Tante Dolores con- 
tended that it never failed if she ' jest got there in time enough. ' 

'I never seen a witch,' admitted Rebecca Fletcher, 'but my 
Grandma knew lots of 'em, and she done tol' me plenty times 
what they looks like. My Grandma told me about a witch what 
went into a good woman's house when that woman was in bed. 
That woman knowed she was a witch, so she told her to go into 
the other room. Ole witch went out and lef her skin lay in' on 
the floor, and the woman jumped out of bed and sprinkled it wit' 
salt and pepper. Ole witch come back put on her skin. She 
start hollerin' and jumpin' up and down like she was crazy. She 
yelled and yelled. She yelled, "I can't stand it! I can't stand 
it! Something's bitin' me!" Ole witch hollered, "Skin, don't 
you know me?" She said this three times, but the salt and 
pepper keep bitin'. The woman took a broomstick and shooed 
that ole witch right out, and she disappeared in the air.' 

Rebecca isn't afraid of witches, though, because she knows 
how to handle them. 'They ain't never gonna hurt you if you 
knows how to handle them and how to talk to them. When you 
pass a place and feels creepy and scared, you feels a ghost or a 
witch. If you say, "Holy Father, don't let this thing bother 
me," He ain't gonna let it hurt you. Spirits come in sometimes 

The Slaves 231 

and drinks liquor spilled on the floor, but they don't make no 
trouble. They gets drunk and passes you like steam goin' by.' 

Discontented slaves were always seeking greener pastures. 
Accounts of runaways and their return, notices of vanished slaves 
and of those found or captured, appeared almost daily in the 
newspapers of the pre-emancipation period. Professional slave- 
catchers, equipped with packs of bloodhounds, chains, guns, and 
whips did a lucrative business returning runaways either to their 
masters, if they could be located, or to the jails in the various 
parishes, where they were held for a certain period and finally, 
if not claimed, auctioned. 

Brief and to the point is the following advertisement in The 
Bee, February 2.6, 182.8: 


The above reward is offered for the arrest of the Negro Wench 
Nancy, who absconded about fifteen days since, she had the 
habit of selling cakes, she has a very black skin, a large breast, 
a fearful look. She had on a blue cottonade gown with 
squares, she is generally at the port, toward Mr. Morney's 
about 2.5 dollars equally offered to the person who can discover 
where she is harbored. 


This one, from the Louisiana Gazette, October 16, 1817, did not 
offer much inducement to the finders : 


Ranaway from the subscriber about the ist instant, a 
Mulatto Apprentice to the Harness making business, named 
Charles Roche, about 18 years of age. 5 feet 3 or 4 inches 
high, sallow complexion, and a lazy indolent walk. Had on 
when he went off a cottonade coatee and pants. 

Captains of vessels and all others, are warned against har- 
boring or carrying off said apprentice. 


The next one is typical of the 'found' advertisements, and 
appeared in the Louisiana Gazette, January 4, 1816: 

2/2 Gumbo Ya-Ya 


Michael, a mullato aged about 38 years; five feet two inches 
high; speaks English and very little French; of middle size. 
Said mullato says he belongs to Mr. Robert Lackey, post- 
master of Woodville, from whence he has absented himself 
since two months. 

The negro Clark, of the Congo nation, having some marks 
of his country on his forehead, aged about 10 years; a round 
face, four feet nine inches, American measure, high, speaking 
very bad English and in the habit of answering in Congo the 
question put to him. Said negro says he" belongs to Mr. Wil- 
liam or Frank, whose residence he is not able to indicate. 


This jailor, advertising in the Daily Picayune on April 4, 1840, 
seemed anxious to get rid of his charge : 

Was brought to the Police Prison of the Second Municipality 
the following slave, viz : 

A negro woman named Sally, about 2.6 years of age; says she 
belongs to Mr. Kerr. 

The owner of said property will please call at the Police 
Prison in Baronne Street, prove property and take her away. 

Captain of the Watch 

Rather pathetic is this notice, run in L'Ami Des Lois Et Journal 
Du Commerce on August 8, 182.1: 

A Negress named Rosalie, between 50 and 60 years of age, hav- 
ing an iron collar with three branches. She does not remem- 
ber her master's name, but he lives in Faubourg Lacourse. The 
owner will please claim the said negress and pay the costs. 


The Iron Collar was a heavy instrument fitting tightly about 
the throat, about an inch wide and having three branches curv- 
ing up around the face, one behind the head and one on each side. 
Sometimes these branches were surmounted with brass bells 

The Slaves 

which tinkled with every movement. Slaves were sentenced to 
wear the collar for various infringements and for a certain 
length of time. Sometimes it might not be removed for years, 
occasionally had to be worn for life. After a first attempt at 
escape a common sentence was a given number of lashes and six 
months or a year wearing the Iron Collar. 

The most famous of all runaways in Louisiana history was a 
gigantic mulatto renowned as the greatest Bamboula dancer ever 
to shake the earth of the Congo Square in New Orleans, and 
whose stentorian shouts of 'Bamboula! Bamboula! Bamboula!' 
thundered through the bloodstreams of the voodooists assembled 
in the Square. 

His name is said to have been Squire or Squier and it is 
believed he was the personal slave of General William de Buys, 
though the only newspaper account of his ownership mentions 
him as the property of a John Berry West, living somewhere be- 
tween Plaquimine and Baton Rouge. However, it is generally 
accepted that he was the property of de Buys, and that he was 
accorded the most lenient of treatment, accompanying the Gen- 
eral on hunting expeditions, was even allowed to carry arms and 
go on hunts alone. Despite this, Squier ran away again and 
again. After one such escapade he was shot and suffered the 
amputation of an arm. Almost immediately he received the 
appellation otBras Coupe, by which his notoriety spread through- 
out the balance of his long and hectic career. He quickly became 
a legendary figure among both the white and colored races and 
his reputation for daring and infamy spread. Little children 
were for years frightened into instant silence and obedience at 
the mere mention of the name of Bras Coupe. 

The day after the amputation of his arm hospital attendants 
found his bed empty. He had vanished into the near-by cypress 
swamps, where, it is said, he gathered a band of renegade slaves 
and led them in nocturnal raids on the plantations in the neigh- 
borhood. Becoming known as the 'Brigand of the Swamp,' 
tales of his prowess and immunity to death grew. Terrified 
hunters returned to tell of having shot him, having seen their 
bullets go through his body, without apparent harm. No plan- 
tation was safe from the nocturnal raids of Bras Coupe and his 


Gumbo Ya-Ya 

henchmen. Female slaves were sometimes carried off, and it is 
reported that at least one white woman fell into his hands. 

On April 6, 1837, a New Orleans city guard brought in a re- 
port of having killed the Negro. He said he had met Bras Coupe, 
shot and wounded him seriously. Then, after being certain he 
was seriously wounded and helpless, he had beat him to death 
with the butt of his rifle. When returning officers located the 
spot where the incident had occurred, however, there was no 
body, only a perfectly perceptible trail of blood where the ' dead 
man' had escaped into the swamp. 

But an attack on a white man finally cost Bras Coupe his life. 
This occurred on July 7, 1837, and The Bee of July 2.0, the same 
year, published the details of his end, in a story headed Death of 
Squier^ telling how a fisherman, leaving his boat, had turned at 
the detonation of a gun, and had seen a giant Negro fitting an- 
other cap into his weapon. The fisherman had then rushed the 
brigand and killed him with a kind of crowbar, having to bring 
it down on his skull three times. 

The body of Bras Coupe was then brought to New Orleans and 
'exposed for inspection on the public square. The marks of the 
wounds given by one of the city guards who had left the brigand 
for dead, were very visible and completely corroborated the 
story told by him, against which some discredit had been 

Slave uprisings were surprisingly rare. Le Page du Pratz, 
friend of Bienville, and one of the first of Louisiana settlers, told 
the story of the first slave uprising. A French soldier struck a 
Negress for disobedience, and she told him that no white man 
had a right to strike a Negro. For this impertinence the gov- 
ernor sent her to prison, and suspecting some rebellion in her 
attitude, he began an investigation. Finally, some slaves were 
overheard conversing in a shack, scheming an attack on their 
white masters. Eight were captured and shackled separately. 
' The day after,' reports du Pratz, ' they were put to the torture of 
the burning matches, which, though several times repeated, 
could not bring them to any confession. One of the leaders of 
the proposed insurrection, a slave named Samba, was threatened 
with further torture if he did not identify his confederates. He 

The Slaves - 255 

finally did this and the eight Negroes were sentenced to be 
broken alive on the wheel and the woman to be hanged before 
their eyes; this was accordingly done.' 

The first slaves in Louisiana were captured Indians. But they 
proved to be more troublesome than useful when held in bond- 
age. Various shrewd bargainings were tried, one being an agree- 
ment with agents in Martinique and St. Lucia by which three 
red men were exchanged for three black ones. This failed, how- 
ever; the West Indian planters refused to have them at any price. 
At last all Indians were freed and were finally emancipated by 
order of the United States Government. This resulted in a Negro 
uprising near New Orleans, which was put dowri with consid- 
erable loss of life. During this revolt, which occurred in 1811, 
five hundred Negroes on the German Coast marched along the 
levee with flags and drums, defying the Whites, and declaring 
themselves free. The insurrectionists were at last rounded up by 
forces led by General Hampton. The leaders were executed in 
New Orleans and their heads exhibited on posts along the levee 

Behind many a slave uprising was the Abolitionist from the 
North, especially after the American acquisition. As early as 
1839 there was evidence that such persons were fomenting dis- 
content among the Negroes and actually promoting disorders. 
In the Forties Negroes inspired by them were found to be meeting 
in secret assembly in many parts of the State. In June, 1853, New 
Orleans newspapers carried the astounding story of a plotted 
uprising. This insurrection had been inspired by James Dyson, 
an Englishman, who, keeping a school for colored boys, was 
teaching other things than the three R's. Women members of 
the group of two thousand who were to arise against the Whites, 
were discovered in a camp in the suburbs of New Orleans engag- 
ing at making cartridges and preparing other ammunition. 
Within a few days the entire city would have been in the hands 
of slaves, the W T hites probably massacred. 

Slave assemblies in the rural parishes were discouraged by the 
Vigilantes, a citizens' organization, dedicated to the maintenance 
of white supremacy, keeping a watchful eye on all gatherings of 
Negroes, since what appeared to be a perfectly innocent dance 
frequently turned out to be a revolutionary meeting. 

2j 6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

In 1860 a nine o'clock curfew was rigidly imposed in New Or- 
leans. At that hour a huge bell was rung nine times to warn 
Negroes to be in their quarters. In October, the same year, 
police closed all churches in the city where Negroes, free or 
bonded, assembled, together with all dance halls and other 
places where they might gather, unless a special permit was 
issued by the mayor of the city. 

Living ex-slaves remember the day when freedom came with 
conflicting emotions. Most slaves were confused and like lost 
children, many exhibited strange reactions to emancipation. 

' The day we was set free,' said Silas Shotfore, ' us did not know 
what to do. Our Missus said we could stay on the place, but my 
Pa didn't want to. We hung around a few days then Pa went 
to work so we could get something to eat. You see, we didn't 
have a thing and peoples was so ignorant they didn't have no 
sense like they got now. I seen my Ma work plenty weeks just 
for a peck of meal.' 

Henry Reed told how he felt when freedom came. 

'I was about nine years old,' Henry figured, 'and I can re- 
member when the steamboat came up the river and a man hol- 
lered, "You're free! You're free!" Everybody yelled and cut 
up so, I was scared 'cause I didn't understand what it was all 
about. You know after the war was over lots of families split. 
Husbands go one way, wifes the other. Lots of colored women 
left their childrens. I remembers some throwed their babies in 
the river and in the bayous.' 

Rebecca Fletcher recalled, 'After freedom come we was on 
our own and we sure had a hard time. We made our own soap 
by saving bones and stuff like that.' 

On most plantations there were Negroes, particularly house 
servants, who were faithful to their former owners and remained, 
often working exactly as if nothing had occurred, without wages 
and without wanting them. Mammies could not be pried loose 
from their ' chillun,' and many of the old ' Uncles' displayed the 
same affection for the white folk who had kept them all these 
years. In many cases some of the field hands stayed on their 
jobs, but now that the transition had occurred the ' Marse' some- 
times worked side by side with them, and the 'Missus' fed the 

The Slaves 2/7 

chickens and performed other chores. Often the family was im- 
poverished and every member of the group had to do his share 
so that there would be sufficient food for them all. 

But, in general, the plight of the slaves was pathetic. Most 
fled in the first wave of elation at this new ' freedom, ' and found 
themselves completely unable to earn a livelihood. Little Ne- 
groes were put into asylums, except for a few very light ones who 
were adopted by white families. 

The Daily Picayune., August 3, 1867, tells of the long line of 
anxious Negresses who flanked the Poydras Market in New Or- 
leans day after day, looking for work, of their tramping the 
streets, going from door to door pleading for odd jobs so they 
could buy food, a few of them even women who had enjoyed the 
best of meals as house servants on the great plantations, who 
might have been pets of the families that had owned them. 
Negroes became beggars, squatters on the levees, criminals. 

Matilda Jones, ex-slave, talked of wars and marriage. 

'You see I've seen a lot of misery in my time 'sides wars. I 
done had six husbands. I seen two of them in their coffins and 
the rest just went away. They was all the most triflin' niggers I 
ever knowed. If I'd done tried I couldn't have picked worser 
ones. I always been careful, though, and I ain't never had two 
or more husbands at the same exact time. I been mighty par- 
ticular about that. I don't believe in havin' your husbands in 
bunches. I is a member of the church and I can't stand for no 
'sinuations 'bout my conduct. I never married one husband 'til 
the last one was dead or out of the parish.' 

Matilda sighed. 'The poor old husband I got now, he's 
starvin' to death before my eyes. You can count his ribs.' 

'Sometimes,' said Annie Flowers, 'we still sets and talks of 
plantation days, and cuttin' the cane in the field; and we sings, 

Rains come wit' me, 
Sun come dry me. 
Stay back, boss man, 
Don't come nigh me. 

' Sometimes I thinks them days was happier, sometimes these. 
But so much trouble done gone over this old haid I ain't sure of 
nothin' no more. I jest don't know.' 

Chapter 13 

Burled Treasure 

Louisiana, but you gotta be careful of them spirits. They do 
some funny things. I knew one real well what would come to 
my house all the time. He would get behind a door and milk a 
towel, and all the cows in the neighborhood would go dry.-'io 

That is the warning of Gaston la Cocq, who has spent years 
searching for buried wealth. But Gaston knows how to handle 
these guardian phantoms. 

' You have to take a spirit controller with you/ he says. ' And 
you have to be a mixed crowd; some white and some colored. 
You see, when your controller talks to the ghost that thing's 
gonna say if white or colored men should dig, and it means one 
or the other has to do all the work. That's the way it goes. 

'All buried treasure has got spirits watching over it. Like 
Lafitte. You know how he used to do? He would take five or 
six men along to hide his stuff, and he would tell them all but 
one who he was gonna have kilt. The one he picked was the one 
what would be the spirit to watch his treasure forever. After 
they buried all the gold and silver and jools, Lafitte would say 
very quiet, "Now, who's gonna guard my stuff?" and the man 

Buried Treasure 

who didn't know no better would want to shine with his boss 
and he'd say, "I will." Then he would get kilt. Of course, 
Lafitte didn't shoot him, himself. He was the general and he 
always stayed in the back. You know how generals don't never 
get near to where the shooting is at.' 

Gaston's spirit controller is named Tom Pimpton, and he's a 
colored man. He has been hunting for treasure for years, too, and 
is one of the best controllers in the State. Practically all his 
knowledge, you see, has come from the Book of Hoyle, the Book of 
Moses, Little Albert and the Long-Lost Friend. He purchased these 
mystic volumes from a Sears Roebuck catalogue, and he consid- 
ers them priceless, for you can hardly buy them nowadays. Tom 
devotes himself exclusively to the supernatural angle of the 
treasure -hunting business. 

'I just masters them spirits,' he says. 'I don't dig; anybody 
can do that. I just fights the spirits. There ain't none of 'em can 
mess with me. 

'There's land spirits and there's water spirits, and you gotta 
know how to talk to both kinds. The land spirits is bad and the 
water spirits is good. They got seven kinds of land spirits; that's 
part of the trouble. There is bulls, lions, dogs, babies, snakes, 
persons and pearls. When you see a cat, that's a bad one and if 
you ain't careful your hole's gonna lap up water right as you dig. 

'You gotta be careful and you gotta be clean. You gotta suf- 
fer, too. The man's gotta suffer and the woman's gotta suffer. 
You sure can't touch no woman, not even your wife, for four 
days 'fore you start out. 

'If something is wrong you knows it right away. You can't 
ever fool a spirit. Your treasure is sure to start sinking and slip- 
ping, and once it sinks it ain't coming up again for seven years. 
Last time I was out you know a fool man done gone and forgot 
and left his Buzz tobacco in his pocket? You can't be careless 
like that and 'spect to find treasure. 

' Sometimes when your treasure slips you can tie it up, but you 
gotta use white silk thread. Ain't nothing else gonna hold it. 

'When you go out you use your divining rod or a finding- 
machine until you knows where the treasure is at. Then you 
drives sticks in the ground in a circle and stretches a clothesline 

z 6 o Gumbo Ya-Ya 

around it. Never use no wire! Your ring's gotta be thirteen 
feets to the east, thirteen feets to' the south, thirteen feets to the 
west and thirteen feets to the north. You leaves a gate in the 
east side for your men to come through, then you closes it up. 
Once your mens get inside that ring, nobody can't talk, nobody 
can't sweat, nobody can't spit. And don't let nobody throw 
dirt outside that ring, 'cause that brings bad spirits. 

'Soon as I gets my mens in the ring I 'noints them on the fore- 
head with Special Delivery Oil. That oil's expensive; it costs me 
five dollars an ounce. You see, I won't mess with none of them 
cheap oils what has been 'dulterated. 

'After everybody been 'nointed I reads the Twenty-Third 
Psalm with them all joining hands and repeating the words after 
me. Then I reads the Ninety-First Psalm to myself. Next I gotta 
read page 87 and page 53 from the Book of Moses. Page 53 has got 
the Master's Seal on it and you gotta know that by heart. 

'Sometimes I takes liquor along when I go out. Some spirits 
likes liquor. They is call the drunken spirits. 

'I done dug up plenty of treasure in my time. I just made up 
my budget the other day and I needs $40,000. I'll get it easy. 
Shucks, that ain't no money. Me and a friend of mine dug up 
$65,000 apiece over in Gretna one day. Had a big snake standing 
straight up in the air over it; he was tall as me and big enough 
around to hug. I just walked up and talked to it like it was a 
baby, and it crawled away. Underneath we found a great big 
mess of gold. 

'The best treasure I ever found was a diamond the size of a 
brick out of the banquette. It was wrapped in kidskin and had 
Lafitte's name carved in it. It was worth about $1,500,000, and 
it was setting in a kettle of $5,000,000 worth of gold coins. I 
spent all that on my wife when she was sick and I just saved 
enough out of it to marry this here wife I got now. 

'It's an easy way to get money, but you sure gotta be careful. 
When you is digging funny things happen. Trees begin to fall, 
and fences come tumbling down and the whole earth shakes and 
makes a loud rumbling sound. Spirits don't never like to give 
up their treasure.' 

Louisianians have been dreaming of finding buried wealth for 

Buried Treasure 261 

years, and practically everybody believes there is much to be 
found. The first white settlers found Indian tribes wearing mas- 
sive ornaments of gold and silver. When they began to murder 
the Indians for their trinkets, the valuables promptly vanished. 
Pirates operated for years in the Gulf of Mexico and through the 
maze of Louisiana bayous, supposedly burying loot on every 
island and in every swamp. Rich wagon trains are reported to 
have been lost in the swamps, too. Along the coasts gold-laden 
ships were wrecked. Plantation-owners, fleeing Union troops 
during the War Between the States, committed family wealth to 
the comparative safety of the earth. Everybody in the State has 
a great-grandmother who sunk the silver plate in the well and 
buried caskets of jewels in the backyard. It is all wonderful and 
appeals to the getting-something-for-nothing desire in human 
nature. All these things await the treasure-hunter, if he can 
perform the tasks. Many try. Some just go out and dig. Others 
employ systems as elaborate and as detailed as Tom Pimpton's. 

Leaving it to luck seems actually to be the most profitable 
method. At Shell Beach on Lake Borgne, children playing near 
the water's edge found Spanish coins mingled with the shells. 
At Thompson's Creek near McManus, doubloons coined during 
the reign of Charles IV were found in a gravel pit. A farmer near 
Ruston shattered his plow blade on an old iron chest which 
showered forth more than 1000 coins. Another farmer, in Avoy- 
elles Parish, uncovered an iron pot filled with 3000 gold pieces. 
A fisherman on Barataria Island, removing flagstones from the 
fireplace of a deserted house, discovered a tin box beneath in 
which were doubloons, jewelry and a silver image of the Virgin. 
Cutting down trees in Opelousas, a citizen turned up 485 gold 
pieces of Spanish origin. There was an epidemic of digging on 
Pecan Island in 192.5, after someone bragged of finding coins 
there, and searchers even uprooted giant oak trees. One man 
searched on Kelso's Island for more than twenty years, firmly 
believing Jean Lafitte had buried immense wealth there. 

Pierre Rameau and his Chats-Huants (Screech Owls), a no- 
torious band of buccaneers, had their base of operations at Honey 
Island. Wounded while fighting in the battle of New Orleans, 
both arms rendered useless, Rameau escaped to a plantation home 

262 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

owned by friends. Here, however, he met a man named Vasseur, 
once an associate, but now his mortal enemy. Vasseur sprang at 
him with a knife, crying, 'Die, Pierre Rameau! Die! Die!' 

Rameau kicked out and sent Vasseur spinning across the room. 
Then, crashing through the door, he fled to a near-by swamp. 
Days later his body was recovered. 

Of course, it is believed much treasure was buried on Honey 
Island by the Screech Owls, and once two hunters stumbled over 
an iron chest filled with Mexican money dating from 1817, and 
worth about $1000. These coins must have been cached on the 
island long after Rameau's demise, yet there was an immediate 
and feverish rush to the spot. Nothing else was ever found. 

John Patorno of New Orleans is probably the most scientific 
treasure-seeker in the State, and the most practical. Patorno has 
invented a mechanism to locate treasure, a radio device with an 
affinity for non-magnetic metals, and this he rents, together with 
his services, for twenty-five dollars a day. He has done a thriving 

When an Algiers ferry pilot, named Clarke, found a map show- 
ing the location of buried Lafitte loot on Coca Island, he went to 
Patorno for assistance. An investigation seemed to give credence 
to the existence of the treasure . 

More than a century ago, said legend, two of Lafitte 's hench- 
men deposited several chests of silver on the island, then staged 
a drunken brawl. When it was over one of the buccaneers was 
dead and the other not far from it. A fisherman nursed the in^ 
jured man back to health and in gratitude the pirate gave him 
the map showing where the chests were buried. This the fisher- 
man passed down to his descendants, and it was from one of these 
that Clarke had obtained it. 

Clarke, Patorno and a group of assistants set out for Coca 
Island at once. This island is not easily reached, and even after 
landing, it was days before they found the spot. Then the Pa- 
torno diviner began to buzz. Excavations were begun, but the 
soft and sandy soil presented a formidable problem, often filling 
with slimy water as soon as dug. Tom Pimpton would have said 
there was a ghost-cat or something of the sort about. 

On the third day the whole side of a pit gave way and two of 

Buried Treasure -263 

the men, caught in an avalanche of mud and sand, narrowly 
escaped being killed. Rather than risk lives, Patorno refused to 
continue the search after that. So, if legend and the map told 
the truth, treasure still lies buried on Coca Island. 

More of Jean Lafitte 's loot is supposed to be hidden in the 
Mississippi bluffs near Baton Rouge. A farmer digging there 
enjoyed a golden moment of elation when his spade struck what 
appeared to be an old chest. It turned out to be an old coffin, 
with nothing inside but a skeleton. Grand Isle, where this most 
famed Louisiana buccaneer had headquarters, has, naturally, 
innumerable myths of buried gold. But Niblett's Bluff, near 
Lake Charles, tops them all with the display of a huge sign 
reading : 


Tales of hidden Lafitte treasure increase from year to year, yet, 
on the other hand, authorities agree that Lafitte was without 
funds when he departed the Louisiana scene, and that it is de- 
cidedly unlikely that he would have left such immense wealth 

Residents of Calcasieu Parish have tried many times to find 
the Lost Mine of Wyndham Creek, subject of one of the best- 
known stories of the De Quincey section. Early pioneers told 
yarns of an Indian-owned gold mine somewhere along Wyndham 
Creek. Many persons have searched in vain. There are no more 
redmen in the section, and their secret, if any, died with them. 
At the turn of the twentieth century three men hunting for the 
mine were found brutally murdered. Even now a woman living 
at Lunita claims to have wandered into a gold mine one day, 
while lost in the woods. She has never been able to retrace her 
steps, though she has tried many times. 

In 192.4 scores of individuals dug in Lakeside Park at Shreve- 
port, after a rumor spread of pirate gold to be found there. A 
Negro claimed to have seen a man carry off twenty thousand 
dollars' worth of coins. When the city decided to create a park 
on the site their principal job was filling holes left by the 

2 64 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

The New Orleans Daily Picayune of April i, 1869, told an amaz- 
ing story of a treasure-trove in New Orleans 's Jackson Square. 
The newspaper said' that the evening before two citizens were 
conversing near the equestrian statue of General Jackson when 
one noticed what appeared to be a small iron pin in the seam of 
one of the granite blocks. Putting his cane against it a wooden 
door, painted to blend with the marble, swung open and within 
was a vault about five feet square, literally crammed with gold 
and silver coins, even nuggets. Scattered about were watches, 
jewelry and unset gems. An open casket overflowed with dia- 
monds, emeralds and other precious stones. The newspaper 
asked, was this the hiding place of a gang of thieves? It is worth 
noting that the story appeared April i. April Fool's Day. 

However, most treasure-hunting in Louisiana is a serious mat- 
ter and not to be approached in any haphazard manner, but is 
brimful of rules and superstitions. When you note the strange 
and harrowing occurrences which have taken place, you can't 
blame experts like Tom Pimpton for not taking chances by using 
a wrong procedure. 

' A bunch of us gathered to dig in a certain place just after mid- 
night,' said one New Orleans man. 'Suddenly chickens started 
coming out of the hole we had made. First come a rooster, crow- 
ing to beat hell. Then he vanished in a puff of smoke. Then the 
chickens come, one by one, every one of them vanishing just like 
the rooster. Last of all, a horse come trotting right out of the 
ground. He was breathing smoke and had fire coming out of his 
eyes and ears. We left after that. That treasure can stay put for 
all I care.' 

1 When I got married I wore a fork-tailed coat,' said Wilkinson 
Jones, native of McDonoughville. 'Me and my wife had a real 
nice wedding. Her name was Emma. But I tell you, the spirits 
had been bothering me all my life, and after I got married they 
seemed to be worse. Still I think you need them when you go 
treasure-hunting. If you let spirits tell you where the treasure 
is at and that it's okay to dig it up, you ain't facing much 
trouble. But if you just head out without asking 'em, you mak- 
ing things bad for yourself. There ain't no treasure anywhere 
what ain't got its spirit watching it. One time I was digging for 

Buried Treasure 

Lafitte's treasure in that old shell pile down by Lake Salvadore, 
and I had an evil-hearted man with me. I should have known 
better 'n to take him along, but you know how it is. Anyway, 
we dug until we hit one of them oldtime iron chests. Right then 
the spirits started coming running out of that hole, whooping 
and hollering. We never is went back there. Any time you dig 
for treasure you are bound to meet spirits. If you never seen one 
before you gonna then.' 

A story prevalent around Hubbardville tells of a planter's 
burying much money and silver plate before departing for the 
War Between the States. When he did not return, the abandoned 
slaves who had buried the wealth for their master decided to dig 
it up. They went to the spot and one jabbed his shovel into the 
earth. Great flames shot heavenward. The Negroes fled and, if 
the story is true, the wealth still lies beneath the plantation soil. 

Legends of pirates wandering up the Pontchatoulu River have 
brought searchers to that section. Once a white man and two 
Negroes dug a deep hole in a certain place. Suddenly a hoarse 
voice began to scream and curse, emanating from the chasm, and 
the men departed the scene in haste. In this section of the State 
'Jack o' Lanterns,' the elusive phosphorescent swamp lights, are 
common and are here believed to lead to buried pirate gold. 

The superstitions connected with this business of treasure- 
hunting are numerous. The following are the ones most reli- 
giously believed and followed : 

The best day to find treasure is the second day of the full moon. 

The best time to dig for treasure is during a full moon. 

The best time of the day to dig is between 9 A.M. and 4 P.M. 

If you talk, spit, curse or sweat while digging you will find none. 

A sleepwalker will eventually lead you to buried treasure. 

Lights bobbing up and down in the swamps will lead you to 

Lights bobbing up and down in the swamps will just get you 

A dream of a light over a spot means treasure is there. 

Lights are liable to appear wherever there is treasure. 

If treasure is buried with a rooster's head, the rooster will crow 
when the rightful heir to the wealth approaches the spot. 

No one who has ever shed blood can hope to find treasure. 

266 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

A certain Mr. Bald of Bogalusa gave warning against over- 
looking that last rule. 

'Well, when you go out looking for treasure,' said Mr. Bald, 
'you got to take a sounding rod, someone who can talk to spirits 
and a Bible. Don't never go with a murderer. Me and five other 
fellows went into an old house near here once that was haunted 
and so bound to have money hidden somewhere in it. We found 
a trapdoor in the dining-room floor. There was steps going 
down, and* after the man who knew spirits knocked to see if any 
was around, we started down those steps. We got just about 
halfway when the place began to fill with water. I don't know 
where it came from. It got so high we had to turn back. Just 
then we seen a big rat run across the top of the water. The man 
who knew spirits- said that rat was a spirit, and that someone 
among us must be a murderer. We all looked at each other hard, 
but, of course, nobody would admit he was the one, so we all had 
to leave/ 

Divining rods of various types are used as aids in locating 
treasure, and mechanical devices of all kinds are invented for the 
same purpose. Many persons advertise their particular mechan- 
ism for sale or for rent. For instance, the New Orleans Times- 
Picayune ran the following in its Personal Column on March 12., 


Buried treasure accurately located by radio device. Reason- 
ably priced. Portable and simple to operate. Free demonstra- 

R. D. Burchard 

816 American Bank Bldg. 

Phone Ma. 6688 

There is some disagreement as to the virtues of types of divin- 
ing rods. Tom Pimpton says: ' The best divining rod is a piece of 
steel about a yard long and as thick as a broomstick. It's sort of 
like a magnet and when it is placed in the ground where the 
treasure is at, it bends itself over like. You sure got treasure 

Eugene Mumford, colored worker at the New Orleans French 
Market, says : ' A branch from a witch-hazel tree with a fork at 

Buried Treasure 2^7 

the end is what I always use. It makes a better divining rod 'n 
steel, and you can use it to find either treasure or water. Go right 
along with it in your hand, and as you go stick it in the ground 
and sound the earth. If that branch weaves to and fro, there's 
water or treasure there.' 

But probably the most remarkable of all is the one used in 
Saint John the Baptist Parish, A colored resident explained: 'A 
real divinin' rod is a piece of iron just like a rod in an iron bed, 
'cept it's got little pieces of iron stickin' out on one end. You 
just set it up in the ground in front of you and it starts hoppin' 
along and all you got to do is follow it. When it gets to a place 
where treasure is, it's gonna start jumpin' up and down over that 
one spot. Then you can start your digginV 

Each one is positive his divining rod is the best and the others 
practically no good at all. 

As Tom Pimpton always says, ' Hell, some of them divining 
rods ain't good for nothing but finding old toilets!' 


Ruins of old fort at Bara- L. Counobo, a fisherman, needing bricks for a 
taria, 1841 furnace on which to boil kettles of pitch, re- 

moved a flagstone from an old fireplace and 
found a box containing Spanish doubloons, 
gold earrings and a silver image of the Virgin. 

Coillon Island, 1851 Rumors spread that $2.0,000 in gold was found 

here that year. 

Bayou Chicot, near Ope- Fritz Lertz, cutting down trees, found coins of 
lousas, September, 1851 German mintage, mostly dated 1813. There 

were about 300 of them, each worth $4.85. 

Breaux Bridge Death Jceeps the secret of the lost treasure here. 

In the early nineteenth century slaves murdered 
their master, Narcisse Thibodeaux, and fled 
with his gold . Captured by irate white men of 
the section, the nine Negroes were forced to dig 
a deep trench, and were shot and buried therein. 
It was not until some time afterward that, 
checking the gold, it was discovered that one 
whole sack was missing, and its whereabouts 
now hidden forever. 


Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Corner of Orleans and Bour- 
bon Streets, New Orleans, 

Highway between Convent 
and Lutcher 

Grand Ecore, near Natchi- 

Western Isle of the Chande- 
leur group, 1871 

Isle de Gombi 

Banks of the Tensas River 

Grand Isle 

Marks ville, Avoyelles Par- 

An impoverished charcoal peddler, repairing 
the flooring in his home, found a box contain- 
ing 1500 doubloons, dating from the Lafitte era. 

Along here is an Indian mound fifty feet high. 
Silverware and other valuables from near-by 
plantations were buried here during the War 
Between the States, it is said. Yet men once 
dug more than forty feet and found only bones 
and palmetto leaves. 

Much wealth is believed to have been buried in 
this vicinity during the occupation of Union 

A man was drowned here that year trying to 
find three chests of Spanish doubloons and some 
rough diamonds. For three generations his 
family had unceasingly sought this supposedly 
pirate loot, claiming to have positive proof of 
its existence. 

It has been long believed that buccaneers buried 
great wealth here. 

A party of men carrying a vast amount of gold 
through the Louisiana wilderness in the early 
days were here set upon by Indians. To travel 
faster and so escape the gold was hastily buried. 
But before the end of the journey the men quar- 
reled and fought among themselves and all 
were killed. The gold is yet to be found. 

A Colonel Frisbee w T as building a mansion here 
when the War Between the States broke out. 
He ordered a wagonload of gold buried near the 
half-completed house. It has never been recov- 
ered, and folk in the neighborhood believe it to 
be guarded by the phantom of a giant black 

Jean Lafitte' s headquarters, and so presumed to 
conceal many caches of treasure. Nothing has 
ever been found. 

Valuables are believed to be buried on the site 
of an Indian village. One man spent years con- 
structing an elaborate mechanism to locate the 
treasure, but had no success. Also, near here, a 
farmer uncovered an iron pot in his field which 
contained 3000 pieces of silver. 

Buried Treasure 

Parlange Plantation, Pointe 
Coupee Parish 

Honey Island, St. Tammany 
Parish, 1907 

Fairfield Plantation, Jeffer- 
son Parish 

Adam Dufresne's -Village, 
Bayou Pirogue, Jefferson 

Kelso's Island, between 
Cameron and Calcasieu Par- 

Wyndham Creek, Beaure- 

gard Parish 

Mississippi bluffs at Baton 


Berthoud Cemetery, Bara- 

Houma, Terrebonne Parish 

Old bed of the Red River 
near Dixie, 1914 

Ruston, 1916 
Milneburg, 1917 

A planter buried $300,00x3 worth of silver here 
during the War Between the States, a part of 
which has never been recovered. 

Two hunters found chest containing Mexican 
coins worth $1000. 

As Admiral Farragut came up the river during 
the War Between the States a planter buried his 
valuables in the battures near-by. In 192.8 a 
mysterious dark lady with a tattered map staged 
a search, but with no success. 

Twin oaks with roots pointing south are sup- 
posed to mark the location of pirate gold. Folk 
of the vicinity are always digging, and hoping. 

It is whispered that the pirate loot buried here 
is enormous, more than a million dollars in 
gold, but no one knows where it is. 

The famous 'Lost Mine of Wyndham Creek.' 

A farmer digging here, where Lafitte is said to 
have buried treasure, hit what at first appeared 
to be an old chest, but turned out to be only an 
old coffin with a skeleton in it. 

Very old, it is supposedly built over an Indian 
mound. Many people have dug here, but, so 
far as is known, have found nothing. 

Men dug near here one day, returned the next to 
find the holes mysteriously filled. The same 
thing happened four or five days in succession 
and the men became frightened and gave up. 

Jake Shelton of Hosston, digging in the mud for 
fishing bait, struck the trade boat Monterey, 
long buried there. He hoped for gold, but 
found only cowbells, dog chains and a barrel 
that had once held pickled pork. 

John Skinner, farmer, found a chest in his field 
holding 1000 old coins of German, Mexicar 
and Spanish mintage, some dating back to 1777 

Louis Morgan, a fisherman, found a ragged five- 
dollar bill on the beach . Joined by other search- 
ers $500, all in old bills, was picked up. It 
looked as though someone had thrown away 
his old money. 


Jefferson Island, 192.3 

Pecan Island, 

Abbevilkj 19x5 

Bogalusa, Washington Paf- 

Calcasieu Parish, 1919 

Louisiana and Arkansas 
Railroad tracks, near Baton 
Rouge, 1919 

Shell Beach, Lake Borgne, 

Naval Station, Algiers, 1935 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

An unknown number of silver coins were found 
here by a Negro. 

After a report of treasure found here, searchers 
practically dug up the entire place. Even huge 
oak trees were ripped out of the ground. 

A Negro boy, hypnotized by a white man, un- 
covered a treasure-trove of silverware in the 
earth near here. 

A certain man consulted Carrie Mae King, a 
fortuneteller, regarding a peculiar mark on the 
ground, and was told that -treasure was buried 
there. But she also said he would have bad 
luck if he tried to dig it up. The man would 
not attempt to find it and refused to divulge its 
location to any less superstitious person. 

Coins said to amount to at least $75,000 were 
found in the dry bed of the Calcasieu River. 
They were believed to have been hidden there 
by a planter of the War Between the States 

Twenty-one Spanish doubloons were found in a 
load of gravel. Negro section hands shot craps 
for the coins. 

Children playing on the beach picked up coins 
dated 1800. The money was believed lost when 
U.S. war vessels were sunk by the British as 
General Pakenham advanced on New Orleans. 

John Patorno's divining machine located two 
caches of coins, one worth $500, the other $800. 

Chapter 14 


Louisiana has at least one ghost. Any that did not would sink 
into the earth in sheer shame the moment such a fact became 
known, for a spook is as necessary to a plantation as a legend of 
family silver buried in the ground by faithful slaves the day the 
damyankees came. 

As a matter of fact, a plantation with but one lone haunt does 
not brag about it particularly. Ingleside Plantation, for instance, 
has a whole colony of invisible phantoms who offer as complete 
and as varied a program as anyone could wish for, except that 
they are invisible. On certain nights chains bang and clang in 
the attic, bones rattle, and the traditional moaning and groaning 
may be heard. Sometimes the chains and bones perform on the 
stairs and in the hallway. Out in the fields the old bells toll dis- 
mally, though no human hand is anywhere about. And, if this 
grows monotonous, a venerable spirit, known as Uncle Nap- 
lander Richardson, renders lovely old-fashioned tunes on the 
parlor piano. 

At The Cottage, the Conrad plantation, near Baton Rouge, a 
group of slaves give impromptu musicales on the wide front gal- 


Gumbo Ya-Ya 

lery on certain evenings, playing and singing all the old songs 
they knew in the days they worked the surrounding fields. When 
the musicians tune their fiddles and banjos, there are also the 
sounds of dancing feet, of light social chatter and gay laughter. 
The original master of the house used to invite his friends over 
on summer nights for small balls on the galleries. Now all re- 
turn. Occupants of The Cottage testify that the music is so 
distinct it could probably be transcribed by a trained musician, 
though the conversations that go on cannot be understood. 

But 'Mr. Holt' is the most famous ghost at The Cottage. The 
original of this apparition was secretary to Frederick E. Conrad, 
who built the house about 1830. Both men were imprisoned 
during the military occupation of the Union forces, and Conrad 
died soon after his release. Holt, however, lived on at The Cot- 
tage for about twenty years. It is said that he was never the 
same after his imprisonment, and that he developed abnormal 
notions of impending poverty. Bit by bit he stored away old 
clothing; he filled trunks with stale biscuits; he wandered from 
room to room during the night, in his white nightshirt and 
flowing beard. After death he seems to have continued his noc- 
turnal wanderings, and has been seen by a number of people. In 
recent years Elks Magazine published a photograph of The Cot- 
tage, and in one window a man's face could be plainly seen. Of 
course, everyone knew it was 'Mr. Holt.' 

At Lacey Branch, near Natchitoches, there is a headless horse- 
man who rides about the road, frightening motorists and late 
pedestrians. The story of his origin seems to be unknown, which 
makes him all the more awesome, since to understand what some 
of these phantoms are about partially alleviates the terror of the 
person who meets them. Also at Natchitoches is the Simmons 
house, an old two-story dwelling, with the usual or plain ghost 
type, who raps on walls and rattles chains. 

There is a haunted wood near Marksville on the Red River. 
Near-by residents will not enter the dim interior after sundown 
or at night. Many witnesses swear to have seen headless men 
marching among the trees. It is said that these are soldiers who 
once fought a battle in this wood. After the battle a long trench 
was dug and the killed were buried without religious service. 

Ghosts - 27 3 

Now the ghosts of these soldiers cannot rest and must march all 

Ponchatoula has a haunted gum tree, which was the scene of a 
young woman's suicide. At certain times, it is said, the tree 
weeps pearls which are, of course, her tears. Another tree, which 
formerly stood near the heart of the town, was known among 
certain white inhabitants as 'The Christmas Tree,' because once 
four Negroes hung there during a lynching. The colored folk of 
the town always avoided the tree, claiming a hanged Negro will 
invariably haunt the spot near where he is hanged. 

Kenilworth Plantation, just below New Orleans, boasts a pair 
of lovers, a man and woman who walk the stairs and halls at 
night, affectionately clasping hands, garbed in ante-bellum cos- 
tumes. The sweethearts are marred, however, by the fact that 
neither has a head. 

A headless man stalks the grounds surrounding the Skolfield 
House, not far from Baton Rouge. He seems to be perfectly 
harmless, and wanders rather aimlessly, perhaps in search of his 
missing skull. There used to be a more destructive ghost there. 
She was a female, and created dreadful disturbances, sending pots 
and pans crashing to the floor, and generally raising an awful 
racket. It was said that this kitchen-haunter was the spirit of 
the first wife of a former occupant of the house who resented her 
husband's remarriage. After the man's death she vanished, ap- 
parently having got hold of him again. 

Limerick Plantation, which stood formerly on the site of the 
Sherrouse House, near Monroe, possessed a whimsical and mis- 
chievous ghost, who every night sent the stair spindles rolling 
down the rear staircase, one spindle at a time, with such noise 
and clatter as to arouse the entire household. This exhibitionist 
continued his playful pastime until the house was razed. 

Myrtle Grove Plantation has a lovable specter in the person 
of a little old French lady in a faded green bonnet, who tiptoes 
through the rooms at night, evidently searching for someone. 
Tirelessly, she journeys from bedchamber to bedchamber, raising 
mosquito baires and peering hopefully into the face of each 
sleeper. They say she is always disappointed, for the face is 
never the one she seeks. 

2-74 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

On the other hand, the ghost who appeared on the old Mercier 
Plantation in St. Bernard Parish was far less gentle. One warm 
summer evening an aged Negress stepped out of her kitchen to 
the back porch to get a breath of air, and ran right into a white 

'Hello, Sarah,' the white man said. 'I want you to meet me 
behind .the milk house at eleven o'clock. I have something for 

Sarah didn't even answer him. Sarah just opened her mouth 
and began to scream. She shrieked so loudly that all the other 
house servants ran out. Then Sarah told them she had met no 
one but the spirit of her former master, Mr. Mercier. 

'It sure was him,' Sarah vowed between yells and sobs of 
terror. ' I'd of knowed him anywhere. He done told me to meet 
him at eleven o'clock. Just before he vanished, he said he got 
gold buried behind that milk house. But I don't want no dead 
man's gold. I don't want to even see no dead man.' 

Gold! The other Negroes pumped her dry. In a day or two it 
had spread all through the neighborhood. Gold! Even the 
group's preacher became excited, and finally it was he who led 
them on a treasure hunt. 

They met behind the milk house one night and the preacher 
took a shovel and began to dig. All of a sudden, as the 'rever- 
end' worked away with his shovel he began to yell. He dropped 
the instrument and sprawled face downward on the earth, crying 
out louder and louder, screaming the Devil had him, that he was 
dying. The bystanders could hear the sound of a whip lashing 
through the air, could see the preacher's back begin to cover 
with thick welts, his shirt darken with his blood. 

Sarah came running up, fought her way through the paralyzed 
throng. She shrieked: 'Mr. Mercier is whippin' the preacher! I 
can see him ! He's mad 'cause you all went after his gold, and he's 
whippin' the reverend.' No one else could see the wielder of 
the whip, but they could all see the man, now moaning and 
writhing in the mud. A few days later he died from the effects of 
the beating. 

Louisiana has a haunted river. From a certain spot in Pearl 
River the sweetest music may be heard at night, issuing from its 


dark depths. There are various legends. Some say Indians were 
drowned there a long time ago and it is their spirits who play 
and sing; others that a group of early Spanish settlers marched 
into the river and committed mass suicide to avoid capture and 
death by torture at the hands of marauding redmen, marched in 
playing drum and fife and flute. 

At Raccourci Cut-Off, there is an even stranger phenomenon. 
Here is the ghost of an old paddle-wheeler. The night the Mis- 
sissippi River changed its course, the boat was trapped in the 
cutoff, and the pilot, screaming curses, bellowed that he hoped 
they never got out of the place. He received his wish. Now, 
especially on very foggy nights, the old boat can be heard chug- 
ging back and forth, its signal bell jangling, and, above it all, the 
roaring of the pilot, cursing the Mississippi, the boat, his pas- 
sengers and himself. 

Of course ghosts of pirates are common. According to tradi- 
tion, they always, when burying treasure, murdered a member 
of their band, and left him to guard the hidden loot, in spirit 
form. The ghost of Jean Lafitte appears so often and in so many 
places that it is unlikely he finds time for anything else in the 
world beyond this one. In one old house, Jean appeared nightly, 
pointed a bony finger at the tiled flooring. When news of this 
spread, treasure -hunters dug up the entire lower floor of the 
house, tile by tile. 

The Pirate Ghost of L'Isle de Gombi is one of the most famous 
of this type of apparition. Gombi Island lies just off the gulf 
coast near the mouth of Bayou Caillou. Cajuns in the vicinity 
have every belief in the pirates' ghosts who reside here. One 
brave young man, known as Louis, scorned the idea of spooks, 
and decided to make his fortune by uncovering the treasure of 
L'Isle de Gombi. 

Louis climbed into his pirogue and set out for the tiny island. 
Landing, he began to dig. All of a sudden he heard a noise and 
turning saw his boat floating away, though he had pushed it 
well up onto the land. He ran after it, dragged it back to the 
shore and tied it to a tree. Then he returned to his digging. 

Suddenly he looked up and there were three pirates. Each had 
a long knife with blood dripping from it. Then, said Louis, 

2j6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

later, ' I sure thought I was digging my grave, me, instead of for 

But Louis was a brave man and a good Catholic, so instead of 
running, he fell on his knees and asked the Blessed Virgin to help 
him, vowing never to look for treasure if he emerged from this 
situation alive. The moon was very bright and as the pirates 
came closer, Louis could see that they had come from the water; 
seaweed dripped from their clothing and shrimp clung to their 
hair and fierce mustaches. Then, as he prayed, the specters van- 
ished, and he ran for his pirogue. But his misery was not ended. 

'There,' said Louis, 'I seen a big fat pirate sitting right in my 
pirogue, me ! I knew he was the captain because he had him a big 
wide belt over his coat like, and long earrings what shined in 
the moonlight like balls of fire. Him, he had blood dripping 
down his mustaches and shrimps crawling all over his face/ 

That ghost pirate looked at Louis and Louis looked at him. 
Louis rowed, because that ghost pirate told him to row. Louis 
said: ' When he say that to me my teeths start to knock together 
in my mouth. Me, I row like hell. I knew he wasn't kidding, 
see? In one big hairy hand he had a big pistol like a cannon, 

Poor Louis rowed and rowed. At last they were far from that 
island. Then, 'That pirate, he slid over the side of the boat and 
was gone. Me, I knew for true he was a ghost then, 'cause when 
he sinked there wasn't no bubbles come after him.' 

Louis went straight home, and when he walked into his wife's 
room without knocking she almost killed him, because she 
didn't recognize him. His hair was snow white. Strangely, he 
didn't go crazy. His friends could not understand that. 'But,' 
ends the story triumphantly, 'soon after that he die.' 

A certain young man in Napoleonville, like Louis, boasted 
loudly that he was not afraid of ghosts. And one night, when 
passing a graveyard with some friends, he was challenged to 
spend the night there alone. He accepted, went inside and sat 
down on a grave. Friends watched him from a hidden place. 
Attempting to rise, the boy's coat was caught on a forked stick 
shoved down into the earth. Uttering loud shrieks that a spirit 
had him, he ripped his coat to shreds getting loose, and ran 

Ghosts 277 

yelling out into the road. His friends didn't catch him until the 
following morning. He was a raving maniac. There are many 
versions of this story. 

Shreveport has had its share of visiting folk from the spirit 
world. One attracted much attention from newspapers all over 
the State a few years ago. The figure of a ten-year-old girl ap- 
peared on the porch of a private home every night for weeks. 
Lights in the vicinity were removed or rearranged, and still the 
small phantom returned. There was a story of a little girl's being 
electrocuted on that porch some years before. After a while, but 
in her own good time and of her own volition, the young ghost 
ceased to appear. 

Mrs. Rosie Altrano of Lafayette stated that she frequently sees 
ghosts walking casually around the streets, even in broad day- 
light. They don't bother her at all now, but she admits she was 
frightened the first time she met a spook. 

'I was in bed all by myself,' says Mrs. Altrano, 'and wasn't 
worried or didn't have nothing to scare me, or nothing. A big 
man ghost come up to the side of my bed, looked at me and said, 
"Rosie, I'm in your room." I began to shake all over. He said, 
"Rosie, I'm by your bed." I shook even worse. "Rosie," he 
said, "I'm in your bed." And he sure was, right there next to 
me. I was like ice. Then he said, "Rosie, I'm under your quilt." 
By that time I was almost dead. "Rosie," he said. "I got 
you!" He had me, too. All of a sudden I got my wind and I 
screamed loud as I could. Then he vanished.' 

A man named Taylor in Vermillion, like Mrs. Altrano, has 
grown quite accustomed to seeing spirits. They're everywhere, 
declares he, in every street, in every house; sometimes they ride 
on people's shoulders. Lots of times, Mr. Taylor says, friends 
come to visit him with a ghost sitting on their shoulder. He 
says he never tells them this, however, because it might make 
them nervous. Most of them look just like people, though occa- 
sionally they'll assume other shapes. 'One thing,' he says, 'I've 
always noticed is that almost all the women ghosts are beautiful. 
I guess that's because all women want to be beautiful and after 
death they get their dearest wish.' 

Genuinely macabre is the legend of 'The Singing Bones,' 
which took place out in the bayou country. 

2 7 8 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

A man, father of twenty-five children and unemployed, grew 
more and more morose 4 No matter how he tried he could not 
find work, and most nights his brood went to bed crying with 

One day, after his usual exhaustive search for work, the father 
was amafced, as he dragged his lagging feet up on the porch of his 
home, to have the tantalizing aroma of roasting meat strike his 
nostrils. The family had had no meat for months. Rushing back 
to the kitchen he found his wife tending a large roast in the oven. 

Immediately he demanded to know where the meat had come 
from^ but his wife begged him not to ask questions, but to sit 
down and eat. Too tired and hungry to care anyway, he obeyed 
her like a child. 

The next night and the next there was meat on the table, al- 
ways the same delicious boneless pork-like meat, and the father 
and the children ate in unquestioning silence. Strangely, the 
mother never joined them, saying always that she had already 

Soon after this he looked for a certain one of his children and 
couldn't find him. Asking his wife about him, she replied sim- 
ply that she had sent several of the youngsters to her sisters for a 
few days. 

But a week later he missed his favorite son. 

'He's gone to my sister's, too,' the wife said. 

But weeks passed, then months, winter grew into spring, and 
one day, counting carefully, the father discovered that more than 
half of his offspring were missing. He was strangely saddened 
and depressed, but hesitated about questioning his wife, for she 
had developed a very bad temper lately and if any of the children 
were mentioned flew into a violent rage. Yet he knew something 
was wrong. 

One afternoon, sitting out on his back steps to brood, he heard 
a faint humming sound from beneath the steps. The hum grew 
louder and louder. First he thought it was mosquitoes, but then, 
with horror, he knew what he heard was the voices of children. 
They seemed to sing right into his ear: 

Our mother kills us^ 
Our father eats us, 

A haunted summer house at "The Shadows" in New Iberia 
Courtesy of Fritz Henle: from Black Star 



The strange old LePrete house has many ghostly legends 
Courtesy of United States Housing Authority, Photo by Sekaer 


Ruins of Fort Livingstone and lighthouse on Grande Terre. In the background is 

Grande Isle, once the haunt of LaFitte's Pirates 

Courtesy of Jefferson Parish Review 

r< v * v 




Madame Perrin is a volume of folklore. "Napoleon? LaFitte? John Paul Jones?" 

She has buried them all in a single grave! 

Courtesy of Jefferson Parish Review 

Ghosts 27 p 

We have no coffins, 

We are not in holy ground. 

Leaping to his feet, the man stooped and lifted the concrete 
slabs that served as steps. Beneath lay a pile of tiny human 
bones. Now he knew the ghastly truth behind the meat they 
had been eating, of what had become of his children. 

He rushed into the house, strangled his wife, and beat her head 
to a pulp with an axe. Then he fetched a priest and had the 
bones of his murdered children properly buried. It is said that he 
was never able to eat meat again. 

Not many years ago a woman named Matilde lived on a farm 
near Killona. A neighbor used to pasture his horse on her land, 
but eventually she had all her land plafited out and she forbade the 
horse to set a hoof on her property. The horse ignored this, in- 
vaded her grounds, so Matilde threw a stone, struck him on the 
nose, and killed him. 

Evidently the horse's owner put a curse on her after that, as he 
was reputed to be in communion with the spirit world. She 
could hardly remain in the house after that, for instead of just a 
horse, she was invaded by ghosts. Furniture moved from place 
to place; voices taunted her, saying: 'Our master told us to move 
inhere. You get out, Matilde.' Sometimes unseen hands would 
beat her black and blue, and she would flee the house screaming. 
Then they would follow her into the fields, cursing and torment- 
ing her. At last the ghosts told her, since she was stubborn and 
refused to obey their orders to move, she would be dead by 
Christmas. She was. One morning neighbors found her cold and 
stiff in her bed. 

Nobody could live in that house after that, though several 
families tried. Once a spiritualist meeting was held there, and 
the irate spooks chased the group out of the place, ripping their 
Bible to pieces, turning over benches and causing the people to 
run for their lives. Witnesses testify to the absolute truth of this 

New Orleans has more ghosts than there are wrought-iron 
balconies in the Vieux Carre. Of course, it isn't very strange that 
such an old city with such a past should have a spook stored 
away in every nook and cranny, an apparition inhabiting many 

28 o Gumbo Ya-Ya 

rooftops and nearly every one of the aforementioned balconies. 

Once, not inappropriately, the Devil lived in New Orleans. 
He had at the time taken a French mistress and set her up in a 
stately mansion in St. Charles Avenue. 

The Devil was very fond of his girl friend, and very jealous. 
Nevertheless, while he was away six days of the week, attending 
to other duties, the coquette took another lover, a dashing young 
Creole of the city. Satan returned one night and, leaning against 
a post outside, waited for the youth to emerge from the house. 
When he encountered him, Satan told him frankly that he was 
the lover of the Frenchwoman, but said that now he did not 
want her any more, and that the boy was to take her and a mil- 
lion pounds of gold and go away. There was one condition, how- 
ever; they must always be known as Monsieur and Madame L. 

The youth agreed, and next night told his sweetheart about 
the condition at dinner. The French girl was both terrified and 
furious, for she realized that the ' L' stood for Lucifer. In a rage 
she rushed at her lover with a napkin, whipped it around his 
throat and strangled him to death. At that moment the Devil 
appeared, killed her and carried both the bodies to the roof, 
where he devoured them, all but the skins. These he gave to 
cats wandering on the housetop. 

From that time on the Devil's head was fixed in the gable of 
that roof, bound there by the sticky flesh of the mortals he had 
eaten. For years afterward Orleanians used to pass and stop to 
stare up at the living head of Lucifer set right there in the front 
of the house. You see, he had forgotten, in his jealous anger, 
that he must not work in the full of the moon, and was thus 
punished for his folly. 

But the drama in the dining-room continued. Night after 
night, the great dining table and the magnificent crystal chan- 
deliers materialized. Always a young man and a girl sat down 
to eat. Then the girl would rise, her face contorted with fury, 
and strangle her companion with a napkin. Then the girl would 
find her hands drenched with blood, and try frantically to wipe 
them clean, but of course she never could. Weeping and wailing, 
she would gradually fade from view. Night after night the 
whole sordid crime was re-enacted, again and again. 

Ghosts 281 

Many families tried to live in the Devil's Mansion, but no one 
could endure the nightly drama. Only one family stayed for any 
length of time, that of Charles B. Larendon, husband of the 
daughter of General P. G. T. Beauregard. Mrs. Larendon died 
with the birth of a child, but her husband stayed on in the house 
until his death. Later, a Mrs. Jacques moved in, but she re- 
ported that she could not bear the ghastly manifestations which 
took place in the dining-room. Her family had to cease using the 
room entirely and at last moved. 

For a number of years the Devil's Mansion remained unoccu- 
pied. In 1930 it was demolished. No one would live in a resi- 
dence where the shades of Lucifer's mistress and her lover re- 
turned, and where the living head of the Devil was set in the 
gable above the roof. 

The New Orleans Times-Picayune of September 17, 1933, told the 
horrible story of a haunted house in Fourth Street. Because of 
the constant tales of weird happenings the building was at last 
turned over to a group of Negroes who could not pay rent. They 
huddled in a small outer building, avoiding the main dwelling 
for terror of the supernatural happenings there. They reported 
many eerie things. Ghostly faces appeared at the windows. 
When the moon was full, the kitchen door would creak open to 
reveal horrible misty things crawling about the floor on their 
hands and knees. 

At one time two elderly spinsters moved into the front portion 
of the house. They said the ghosts came creeping in like an army 
of gray rats, their hair covered with blood; one pulled his leg off 
and threw it at the new tenants. Another dug out his liver and 
tossed it at a lamp. A third gouged out his own tongue and 
stuffed it into the teakettle. One vomited into the ladies' Sunday 
shoes; one clawed out his eyes and ate them; and one emptied a 
sack of live green worms into the tenants' bed. They smashed 
dishes, tore up clothing, smeared the parlor sofa with filth, put 
feathers into the pot of gumbo, and sifted ashes into the butter. 
After that the maiden ladies moved. 

Finally the owner of the house had the floor of the house torn 
up and replaced, and after that the ghosts failed to appear. It was 
never verified, but the Negroes vowed a number of ancient skele- 

282 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

tons were found under the flooring, and it was not until they were 
decently buried that the haunting ceased. 

In April, 1874, tne Treme Street Bridge, crossing the Old Basin 
in New Orleans, was haunted by the wraith of a woman. Usu- 
ally she was, as all female ghosts should be, pale and beautiful 
and young, but often she took other forms. Sometimes she 
would be older and have a child clasped in her misty arms. 
Again, she would appear as a haggard old creature, her body 
rotted and obscene, her toothless mouth drooling, her scanty 
white hair dripping with slime, her draperies green with filth; 
worms would crawl about her throat and often she carried a 
lighted candle. Always at midnight she would appear, and 
great crowds gathered to view the scene, many vowing they saw 
her standing there, shivering with terror. New Orleans news- 
papers of the period made much of these manifestations. 

Legend had it that this phantom was the ghost of a woman 
who, discarded by her lover, became a prostitute, bore a child, 
and, in premature old age, drowned herself in the waters near 
the Treme Street Bridge. That, it was said, was why she ap- 
peared in three forms: as the young girl, trusting and happy in 
her love for the man, as the older woman with the child, and as 
the broken derelict she was at the time of her death. The man, 
it was stated, had adopted the child, not knowing it was hers. 
The baby died and, blaming himself for it all, he had committed 
suicide in the same spot where the girl had taken her life. Later, 
when the apparition ceased to appear, it was reasoned that the 
lovers had been reunited at last beneath the surface of the water. 

At 1447 Constance Street stands a mansion built about 182.0. 
It is said that here two white -faced soldiers in blue uniforms 
stare out of the upper windows, waving their arms and babbling 
in a muddled jargon. Sometimes they clasp hands and parade up 
and down the halls, singing the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic,' 
famous song of the Union Army during the War Between the 

This house eventually became a lamp factory. One night, a 
Negro stayed late to clean up. He was alone on the second floor 
when the door swung open; in marched a pair of heavy boots, 
or at least he could hear, though he could see nothing; a moment 

Ghosts 28 $ 

later there was the sound of a second pair. Then he heard laugh- 
ter and the whistling of that song. The colored boy stood it just 
one minute, then he fled down the steps and out of the house. 

Another morning the two proprietors had arrived early. No 
one else was there. Suddenly a huge block of cement came 
hurtling down the steps, barely missed the two men. No one 
had ever seen the block before. How had such a definitely huge 
and solid thing got into the house? 

At one time a widow took a portion of the dwelling as an 
apartment. Sitting sewing one afternoon a drop of blood fell 
from the ceiling on her arm. Another. She stared upward. 
Blood dripped from a spot in the ceiling, one drop at a time. 
Then she heard someone singing: 

John Brown's body lies a-moulding in his grave, 
John Brown's body lies . . . 

3;j3: . :.. ;-,;ii":, ; .s; ^'"IIK! , v// .ni -^jV Vxj ,:;.-.# 1H> ; 

The next day, when the widow moved, two young men in the 
blue uniforms of the Union Army appeared at an upstairs win- 
dow, looked down and smiled. 

Patrolman William Fleming remembered visiting the house as 
a small boy, taking two other boys and a pair of dogs. The floor 
had been ripped up in an upper chamber and the youngsters 
walked the joists. Suddenly a door swung open slowly, and an 
icy draft blew in. One of the dogs fell through the floor and was 
instantly killed. The other cried and carried on strangely. The 
boys made a hasty departure. Behind them came the song in a 
deep baritone: 

John Brown's body lies a-moulding in his grave, 
John Brown's body lies a-moulding in his grave, 
John Brown's body lies a-moulding in his grave, 
But his soul keeps marching on. 

Oh, we'll hang Jeff Davis to a sour-apple tree, 
Oh, we'll hang Jeff Davis to ... 

The story is that two Federal officers in New Orleans during 
the occupation of General Ben Butler stole army funds, and when 
accused of the crime, hid themselves in this house. Then, one 
night, they lay side by side on the bed, and each placing his re- 

284 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

volver over the other's heart, they pulled the triggers. There 
were two shots, as one. Then no sound but the drip, drip, drip of 
their mingling blood. This happened more than three quarters 
of a century ago, yet still they walk, singing their old Yankee 

The backyard of a house in Saratoga Street is still haunted by 
the ghost of an old miser who once lived there. This old man 
worked hard, denied himself everything, and hoarded his money 
in pieces of gold. Night after night he would sit by the dim oil 
lamp that was his only light, counting and caressing his gold. 
' My beautiful children !' he would say to the coins. ' My beauti- 
ful, beautiful children!' 

Before he died he buried all his 'beautiful children' in a deep 
hole in the backyard. Now he returns almost every night to 
search frantically for his gold. This isn't very difficult for him, 
you see, because he was buried in a cemetery just across the street 
from his former residence. Sometimes he brings other shades to 
help him claw at the hard earth, one in particular a hideous 
wraith of an old woman, whose flesh hangs in decomposed tat- 
ters from her bleached bones and who has no face, but just burn- 
ing eyes set in a skull. They hobble about muttering and whin- 
ing, the man begging his 'beautiful children' to show them- 
selves. Frequently neighbors watch the scene, hoping to be 
shown where the gold is buried. Many people have dug in the 
yard, but nothing is ever found. 

The Seamen's Bethel in St. Thomas Street, New Orleans, was 
once haunted by the ghosts of two young sailors, who would 
appear each night, weeping and sobbing, and frightening the 
wits out of the transient lodgers. At last one courageous sailor 
asked them what they wanted. The answer was, 'Mother!' 

The tale was finally pieced together. A century before the 
boys had lived in the house with their parents when it had been 
a private residence. Both had been drowned while at sea. Re- 
turning as spirits, they had appeared to their mother several 
times, but she had always been too frightened to answer their 
cries. They never showed themselves again after the sailor an- 
swered them. But a few nights later that same sailor was 
found strangled to death in his bed. 

Ghosts 285 

Cherokee Street was once the scene of a ghost war. The 2.00 
block was literally showered with bricks and stones one night. 
The next night it happened again. This went on for days. Police 
were summoned, circled the block, searched feverishly, but 
nothing or no one was ever found. Neighbors remembered an old 
man and a little girl who had lived in the block, and who had 
hated each other violently. Strangely, the two had died within 
the same week and had been buried in adjoining tombs in the 
cemetery. It was said that now the two spirits were warring 
against each other. The child's parents had her body removed to 
another tomb and the shower of bricks and stones ceased imme- 

Miss Rica Hoffman, a New Orleans resident, remembered the 
case of 'The Ghost Who Walked the Sausage Factory/ a fan- 
tastic crime and supernatural aftermath which occurred in the 
city some years ago. 

'A long time ago, right before I was born, my mother met 
Hans Muller,' Mrs. Hoffman said. 'My parents and the Mullers 
had both just come from Germany, so naturally they were 
friendly. Hans Muller was a hard-working young man, but he 
was in love with another girl and tired of his wife, who, working 
very hard in the sausage factory they owned, grew old and 
wrinkled before her time. One night Hans pushed his wife into 
the big me^t grinder in the factory. Nothing of her was left. 
But a few days later customers began to complain of bits of bone 
and cloth in their sausages. Even his girl, hearing the gossip, 
grew cold toward him and would not see him any more. 

'One night, soon after, he heard a "thump! thump! thump!" 
around his boiler vat. Then he saw the bloody ghost of his wife, 
with her head crushed to a pulp, coming toward him. Shrieking, 
he fled from the place. Neighbors, hearing his screams, ques- 
tioned him, but he said he had suffered a bad dream. He had told 
everyone Mrs. Muller was out of town. 

' Then a customer found a bit of a gold wedding ring in a sau- 
sage. She called the police, but they found Hans Muller in his 
factory screaming and crying, a raving maniac. He kept saying 
his wife was coming out of the sausage grinder and would get 
him. He spent the rest of his life in an insane asylum. 

2 8 6 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

4 A man bought the factory, but the ghost continued to appear. 
Nobody could stop it. At last Muller committed suicide in the 
asylum, and the phantom never appeared again. My mother ate 
some of the sausages Mrs. Muller was made into.' 

New Orleans taxicabs still avoid one of the St. Louis cemeter- 
ies whenever possible. At least they never stop to pick up a 
young woman dressed in white who might hail them from the 
entrance. One driver answered her signal late one night and 
drove her to the address she gave him. There, she asked him to 
go up on a gallery, ring the bell and inquire for a man who lived 
there. The man came out, but when the driver told him of the 
girl waiting in the cab, he asked for her description. And when 
this was given, he said that was his wife, but she had been dead 
and buried for some time, that she had been interred in her bridal 
dress. Then the taxi driver realized that it had been a wedding 
gown the girl was wearing. The men raced down to the cab and 
jerked open the door, The phantom was gone. Husband and 
driver fainted. From then on the bride at the entrance of that 
cemetery hails taxis in vain. 

Cemeteries are, of course, ideal places for specters, since here 
lie the remains of their earthly bodies. No haunted house ever 
received more attention and publicity, for instance, than the 
'glowing tomb' of Josie Arlington, famed Story ville lady. 

Then there is the young woman who spent a night in an old 
cemetery on a bet, and told a remarkable tale next morning. She 
said that as soon as the moon left the sky, and it became pitch 
black, a bluish light filled the place, and from the graves stepped 
a company of ghosts, weaving back and forth like wisps of fog. 
Then a second group rose from the ground, these looking much 
older than the others. Presently a third lot appeared, these quite 
elderly. There followed a fourth set, so bent and feeble with age 
that they had to lean against the others for support. When a 
fifth group appeared they could not stand at all, but crawled and 
writhed on the ground like reptiles. Finally, a downpour of rain 
descended upon the seething mass and they all vanished under- 
ground. The girl did not wait to win her bet. 

Next day, however, she returned to investigate and discovered 
that this cemetery was in reality five graveyards, one built over 

Ghosts 28 j 

the other; there had been an Indian burial ground, an old Spanish 
graveyard, the family cemetery of a Creole, an ancient potter's 
field. As she had no previous knowledge of this, the girl was 
convinced she had seen into the spirit world. 

A New Orleans woman who had lost her sweetheart in the 
first World War, recovering from her grief, decided to marry 
another man. Something made her hesitate, however, and she 
went to the grave of her first lover to ask his spirit's guidance. 
All night she sat beside the tomb, talking to the marble slab. 
At last she heard a noise and glancing upward saw an old owl 
circling overhead. Each time the owl circled it dropped a beau- 
tiful rose into her lap, until she held fourteen scarlet blooms and 
fifteen white ones. Then she realized that the corresponding 
letters of the alphabet were N and O. As soon as she awakened 
to this fact the roses withered and died. Later she learned that 
the man she had nearly married was a criminal and had swindled 
numerous women by pretending to marry them. 

A widow of the city used to visit her husband's tomb in Saint 
Louis Cemetery Number I almost daily, where she would grieve 
deeply. She grew more and more morose, even contemplated sui- 
cide. One day she fell asleep in the cemetery and when she awoke 
it was dark. Then she saw a pale form emerge from the tomb, 
and she recognized her husband. She was overjoyed, and began 
to question him. Suddenly she became conscious of the fact that 
she could see through all the tombs in the graveyard. All about 
her were happy, laughing, chatting people of all ages. Turning, 
she looked through the cemetery walls and there she saw hordes 
of ghastly skeletons, scrambling and plunging by, hurrying and 
falling and crushing each other in what appeared to be a stupid, 
insane race to get somewhere first. Laughing at her horror, her 
husband said : ' That is the way your world looks to us. You see, 
it is they who are dead. We are alive. ' From then on she grieved 
no more, but became a happy and successful personality, know- 
ing that her husband was alive and happy. 

One of the most fearful of all the legends is that of the ghosts 
who haunted the old Carrollton Jail. So many witnesses, among 
them hard-boiled and exceedingly realistic officers of the law, 
testified to the eerie happenings that it is almost impossible to 

288 GumboYa-Ya 

doubt that strange things did occur in that establishment. 

Originally the old Jefferson Parish Prison, when the Carrollton 
section was a part of that parish, the building later became the 
Ninth Precinct Station, though colloquially it seems to have 
always been known as the 'Carrollton Jail.' 

One evening, in the summer of 1899, two men and a woman 
stepped in to chat with Sergeant William Clifton, police com- 
mander of the District. The lady leaned against a wall in the 
office, and immediately was spun out into the room as if someone 
had pushed her violently. This happened three times, when she 
continued to lean against the wall as a test. Terrified, she 
screamed that there was something in that wall. The men then 
leaned against it in turn, and to each one's amazement, he was 
sent whirling into the middle of the room. 

Several nights later, an Officer Dell, driver of the patrol wagon, 
lay down to nap on a sofa which stood against the same wall. 
The couch began to roll, carried the policeman out into the cen- 
ter of the room and back again. The next night, another police- 
man, boasting of his disbelief in the supernatural, lay down on 
the couch in the presence of a number of his fellow officers. Sud- 
denly the sofa tilted and bounced the brave officer to the floor. 
From then on no one touched that wall. There was a story of a 
man who had killed his wife and boiled her body in lye. Ar- 
rested, the wrathful police had beaten the man to death against 
the wall. Before he died he had screamed he would return, and 
evidently he had. 

One night in October, the same year, Mounted Officer Jules 
Aucoin saw a portrait of Admiral Dewey, hero of the day, re- 
volving like a wheel on the wall of the office. Yet, when closely 
examined, it was found to be fastened tightly and perfectly 
normal in appearance. On other nights a portrait of General 
P. G. T. Beauregard and a mirror crashed to the floor. Both were 
hung with strong cord from stout nails, and on each occasion the 
cord was unbroken, the nail still firmly fixed in the wall. 

Corporal Harry Hyatt vowed that he heard heavy footsteps in 
the corridors, one foot dragging. Everyone remembered a mur- 
derer who was lame and who had been imprisoned there. The 
night Corporal Hyatt heard the footsteps, the murderer, who 

Ghosts 289 

had escaped, was found dead in Pennsylvania. Other nights 
iron paperweights were raised from desks and flung violently at 

On one floor, several condemned cells had been remodeled into 
a courtroom. Footsteps were often heard up there. At three 
o'clock one morning great hands grasped the throat of Sergeant 
Clifton and almost strangled him to death. There was no one 

One hot July day about noon two quadroon girls appeared in 
the Sergeant's office. Suddenly they vanished right before his 
astonished eyes. It was believed they were the wraiths of two 
wenches who had carved out their lovers' livers. On another 
occasion an Officer Foster saw Sergeant Shoemaker, who had 
been dead more than a year, standing beside his desk. The ghost 
walked over to the sofa and vanished. 

Requests for transfers to other precincts became frequent 
among officers stationed at the Carroll ton Jail. 

Whenever prisoners were placed for the night in cell number 
three they were found terribly beaten the next morning. Each 
victim, removed bloody and half-dead, told the same story, of 
three ghosts who came through the walls and battled each other 
all night, half-killing the mortal occupant. Once three murder- 
ers had been locked together in this cell and had fought each 
other all night, one night, each man for himself. In the morning 
two were dead and the third lived only a few hours. 

In 1937 the old prison was razed. Workmen, pulling down the 
gallows in the central courtyard, declared that even then human 
shapes writhed in the clouds of dust, grinning and grimacing, as 
though every murderer who had ever died on those gallows re- 
turned to revel in the destruction of the scene. Through all its 
long life the jail had been a grim and perfect setting for ghostly 

The old Parish Prison at Tulane and Saratoga had its share of 
ghosts, too. The New Orleans Daily Picayune, January Z3, 1882., 
reported that there had been fourteen attempted suicides in cell 
number seventeen, and most of them succeeded. The survivors 
jibbered of a red-haired woman who came down the corridor, en- 
tered the cell with a smile and sadistically tortured them until 

2<)o - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

they sought relief in death. Suicides became so prevalent that 
the cell was not used for years. Then the beautiful apparition 
haunted another cell on the same floor. Here six women killed 
themselves within three months. Police, too, vowed to have 
seen the woman often, gave her the title of 'The Redheaded 
Countess,' because of her fiery tresses and regal manner. Once a 
Captain Bachemin passed her on the stairs. She touched his coat, 
and her fingers seared through the material, leaving a hole in his 
clothing and scorching his flesh. Or so he claimed. 

An entire crew of malevolent spirits tormented a Mrs. Lee and 
her daughter, who resided at Coliseum and Ninth Streets. The 
father had been murdered by thugs and returned often to beg his 
daughter to play the piano for him. Yet when she did so evil 
spirits accompanying the father would beat her black and blue. 
Every time she played the poor girl emerged from the ordeal 
feeling and looking as though she had been tossed into the center 
of a free-for-all fight. The most gruesome angle of the affair was 
that Mr. Lee had no head, and that he was always begging his 
daughter to find his head. 

One Sunday a minister, preaching a doleful sermon on sin, ex- 
hibited a skull on his pulpit as an example of the end of mortal 
man. A woman in the congregation learned that the skull was 
Lee's, that it had been turned over to him by a doctor, who had 
obtained it from the coroner. Having read the ghost story in the 
newspapers, she begged the skull from the minister and brought 
it to the widow and daughter. After it was buried beside the 
balance of his remains the ghosts never returned. 

A headless phantom paraded about a Derbigny Street house 
for years. No one could live there, and literally a dozen people 
swore to the existence of the apparition. A male specter with a 
slashed, blood-dripping throat used to stroll about the Old Shell 
Road, terrorizing numerous persons. Just a few years ago uptown 
Baronne Street was cast into excitement by a ghost who walked 
about the house where he had resided in life, seeking and begging 
for a drink of water. Sometimes he found a faucet in the bath- 
room or kitchen and then he always left the tap open. Mornings 
the people living in the place would find a faucet running full 
blast. This ghost had been a grocer and had maintained his busi- 


ness in the first room of the house, living in the rear. Rumor 
spread that he had accumulated great wealth and had hidden it 
in the walls of the place, and that this explained his return from 
the grave. Nothing was ever found, however. 

A few years ago there was a shower of bricks at 1813 St. An- 
thony Street. For days a single brick crashed into the yard every 
few minutes at regular intervals. No matter how many persons 
viewed the phenomenon the bricks continued to come. Windows 
were smashed, at least one woman was struck and injured. 
Police came and went and wrung their hands. No cause was 
ever discovered. 

A Frenchwoman who operated a boarding-house in New Or- 
leans suffered a streak of bad luck back in 19x5 . Then one of her 
roomers became ill and complained to the doctor that he felt as 
if he had been eating great quantities of raw turnips. He died, 
leaving all he possessed to Madame. A few days later a second 
roomer fell ill and died, also leaving Madame the proceeds of a 
substantial life-insurance policy. When a third boarder passed 
away the next week, again leaving Madame insurance money, 
the balance of the inmates of the establishment began to whisper 
unkind things, and when a fourth boarder fell ill, his brother 
moved him from the house, saying the place was cursed. This 
last man recovered. 

It was now recalled that every ill person had complained just 
as the first one had of a sensation of having eaten a large 
amount of raw turnips. But nothing came of it; each death had, 
according to summoned physicians, been from natural causes. 
Madame, embarrassed by gossip, sold her business and moved to 
a nice cottage in the suburbs, where she was able to live very 
comfortably on the various insurances left her by the deceased 
boarders. Years afterward she revealed an amazing story to a 
close friend. 

Just before the first death, she said, she had been so desperate 
for money that she had not known where she would find suffi- 
cient funds to buy provisions for her table. Sitting in the dining- 
room that afternoon she had been at her wit's end; there was 
nothing in the kitchen to eat and the dinner hour was drawing 
closer and closer. Suddenly, in the middle of the dining-room, 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

there appeared a large bed and in it lay a man with snow-white 
hair. He smiled and asked her to tell him her troubles. 

When she had finished, his advice was simple. Why not feed 
the boarders on raw turnips? Oh, no, Madame protested. Who 
could live on raw turnips? What would her boarders say? That 
was too ridiculous, and she had always enjoyed such a reputation 
for a fine table and Creole cooking of the best. Certainly, they 
would all leave. But the man begged her to try it. 

'But who are you?' cried Madame, in amazement. 

'Mark Twain,' said the ghost, and promptly vanished, bed 

So Madame went to market, without any thought of wrong, 
and spent the little money she had on turnips. When she re- 
turned she sliced them, diced them, pared them and served them 
whole, filling every dish on the table with turnips in all shapes, 
sizes and conditions. The boarders sat down, ate heartily, and 
complimented her on the excellent beef, the superb vegetables, 
the delicious dessert. Yet all they had eaten was raw turnips. 

This went on for some time, Mark Twain appearing every day 
to chuckle over his joke. Madame began to make money. But, 
unfortunately, either she overdid it or the boarders overate. The 
deaths worried Madame a great deal. The cases attracted atten- 
tion all over the city. As recently as January 19, 1930, the New 
Orleans Item Tribune carried an account of this amazing instance 
of spectral assistance in making a financial success of a boarding- 

Another Frenchwoman, this one living in the Vieux Carre in 
about 1930, claimed to have been in constant communication 
with the spirit world. One day a couple moved in the house next 
door to hers and she learned that they had lost their five little 
daughters that all had been kidnapped and never found. Soon 
afterward she saw five beautiful bubbles, large glittering spheres 
of silver and gold, floating over the house. Immediately she told 
the family next door that the bubbles were their lost children. 
The mother could see the bubbles, too, and on one occasion she 
heard childish laughter as the globes were wafted over the back- 
yard. The clairvoyant told the parents that the children had 
been murdered and that their bones were in a box, and the box 

Ghosts 29) 

buried near a certain bayou. The couple and witnesses journeyed 
there and the box and bones were found exactly where the 
woman had predicted they would be found. 

Of course New Orleans 's Vieux Carre is haunted by scores of 
ghosts. Practically every house has its phantom. 

The famous 'Haunted House* of Madame La Laurie, undoubt- 
edly the best known of those in this oldest section of the city, has 
been so much publicized that there is no use repeating here its 
controversial tale of slave-torture, flight and envy. 

The quadroon slave girl who walks sans clothing on the roof of 
a house in the 700 block of Royal Street is almost as well known. 
This girl was the mistress of a young, aristocratic Creole. Am- 
bitious, she demanded marriage, and her lover promised to give 
her his name if she would prove her love by spending a night on 
the rooftop naked. It was December and bitter cold, but the girl, 
determined to take her place as his wife, mounted to the roof and 
removed her clothes. Within a few hours she collapsed from the 
cold and died. Now this young and beautiful shade still does her 
phantasmal strip-tease on December nights. Or so say the 

The New Orleans Daily News of July 4, 1907, reported a phantom 
in St. Ann Street near Royal. This apparition attracted wide- 
spread attention and became known as the ' Witch of the French 
Opera.' Beginning a nightly pilgrimage from the old French 
Opera House, this terrible wraith, a woman with snow-white 
hair and a bony, ashen face, lit with fiery red eyes, would, after 
descending the steps of the opera house, walk to St. Ann Street 
and Royal, and there vanish into a certain rooming-house. Many 
persons saw her, especially tenants of the rooming-house, who 
met her in the hall and on the stairs. Next day they always 

Legend reported that a woman in the vicinity, growing old, 
had taken a young lover. After discovering his infidelity with a 
young girl, she wrote a letter to the police, saying she would 
return, and then committed suicide. The next night her spirit 
entered the room where the young lovers slept, turned on the 
gas and asphyxiated them. 

For the next decade her ghost haunted that neighborhood, 

2$ 4 ~~ ' Gumbo Ya-Ya 

always making the journey from the opera house to the room 
where she had killed the youth and his mistress. Then one day 
a new tenant discovered a yellowed love letter between the 
mantel -shelf and the chimney. When she tossed it into the fire 
the ghost appeared and tried to snatch it from the flames. Fail- 
ing, she uttered a furious shriek and vanished. After that the 
phantom was never seen again. 

Pere Dagobert, once pastor of the Saint Louis Cathedral, still 
appears, it is said, walking up and down the aisles of the Cathe- 
dral, singing the same hymns he loved to chant during his life. 

It seems Pere Dagobert exhibited many earthy characteristics 
for a priest. He is reputed to have had a passion for good food 
and fine wines. Furthermore, instead of always appearing in the 
somber garb of his profession, he often wore the most magnifi- 
cent silks and laces, long silk hose and shoes with buckles, as 
was the fashion among the dandies of his era. He was an ex- 
tremely handsome man with a superb baritone voice, and his 
appearance and singing used to thrill the feminine portion of his 
congregation. But he was genuinely beloved, and not one of his 
parishioners ever doubted his spirituality, though once a bishop 
accused him of gluttony, drunkenness and a fondness for brown 
women. The bishop failed to prove any of his charges. Now 
Pre Dagobert haunts his cathedral, occasionally can be seen 
dressed in his satin breeches and coat and flowing lace cuffs, his 
hair modishly dressed and curled, dipping from his jeweled snuff 
box. Of course you have to have 'the sight' to see him. 

A certain apartment at 714 St. Peter Street, in the very heart 
of the Vieux Carre, is still usually unoccupied because of the 
ghastly wraiths who appear to torment anyone who tries to 
reside therein. 

In the eigh teen-fifties a Doctor Deschamps, a dentist, hyp- 
notized a young girl for the purpose of using her as a medium to 
locate buried treasure. When his scheme failed time after time, 
he began to beat and abuse her. The girl finally died after long 
weeks of abuse and, directly, from an overdose of chloroform. 
Arrested and charged with murder, Deschamps was hanged. 

Now his ghost and that of his victim return to the scene of 
his crime to enact and re-enact the tragic drama. They always 


appear together, the tenants will tell you, a burly, muscular 
man with hairy, apelike arms and the cringing girl. A most 
amusing touch has been added to this story by the introduc- 
tion of Oliver La Farge, the well known author, who once lived 
in this house. Nowadays when the story is told, it is said that 
Mr. La Farge was driven out by the ghosts. 

One young man occupying the apartment was taking a bath 
when suddenly in midair above his head appeared the leering and 
monstrous apparition of Doctor Deschamps. Terrified, the youth 
bounded from the tub and raced naked and soapy into St. Peter 
Street, up Royal. A policeman gave chase and halted him with 
startled yells and an overcoat. The young man refused ever to 
set foot in the apartment again, even to collect his belongings. 
Friends had to perform the task for him. 

A house at the corner of Burgundy and Barracks Streets is said 
to have been erected about 1760 to house fifteen hundred Spanish 
soldiers. It is told that double files of soldiers march up and 
down the old galleries, their sabers clanking, amidst horrible 
groaning and cursing. 

In early days soldiers of two Spanish kings were quartered 
there, and there occurred a scandal which did not leak out for 
many generation's. In the i86o's a young business man, de- 
scended from one of the participants in the affair, told the story. 

During the Spanish regime, when the gold in the Colony was 
stored in these barracks, it was spirited away from the strong 
room in which it was kept and hidden somewhere within the 
walls of the house. When troops were dispatched to the Flor- 
idas, a company of men was left in the building and they con- 
ceived a bold scheme to steal the gold. Some, however, dis- 
sented and they were put in irons. One night these men were 
taken into a certain part of the house along one of the galleries 
and hung by their bare backs on heavy hooks set into the wall, 
like quarters of beef. Their feet were then spiked to the wall, 
and a live rat was tied to each man's naked abdomen. Then the 
walls were plastered up, all but a small portion where their 
faces were, so that they might not die the comparatively easy 
death of suffocation, and also so that the rest of the men could 
enjoy their agony as the rats ate their way into the living bodies. 

2 g 6 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

After they had died the faces were plastered over. The gold was 
divided, after which each of the men became a fine dignified gen- 
tleman and the founder of a great family. 

To this day, along that thick wall, a row of hideous faces ap- 
pears in the moonlight. Mammoth rats come out of the walls, 
to play and roll about like kittens on the floor and in the court- 
yard. Many persons have tried to feed these rats, but they never 
eat; their ghost bodies survive forever on that feast of human 
vitals. One young man, in 1932., allowed a rat to step on his 
hand and crawl up his arm. The arm was immediately crushed 
and had to be placed in splints for weeks. 

Every night a light glows on the winding staircase. A man's 
head and shoulders can be plainly seen, sitting at a small table 
beside a window, counting gold coins. There is no table here, no 
window. Only the stair and a wide corridor. People have even 
dared to walk up to the place where the man is seated at night, 
but they see nothing then. In the garret the thick walls are a 
mass of inner tunnels. Legend guesses that the man on the stair- 
case was the keeper of the gold, in a narrow room between the 
walls, and that he, too, died within the stiffening cement. The 
fact that this house was not standing in Spanish times is ignored 
by those who tell the story. 

Another old New Orleans house was visited by a newspaper 
reporter a number of years ago. The house, built in 1770, had 
been a magnificent mansion, but by this time had fallen into a 
disreputable state, though still the home of a descendant of the 
original family. The reporter was grudgingly admitted by an 
ancient mulatto servant, who made him swear at the door that 
he would not let any ghosts in. Then he was ushered upstairs 
and into the presence of 'The Senorita,' a revolting old hag, 
loaded with priceless jewelry and wearing a blazing tiara on her 
almost hairless scalp. Bunched in a featherbed in a huge arm- 
chair, she looked about to fall apart right before the young man's 
eyes. Even her rings were tied to her fingers with pieces of twine, 
the ends of which had been soaked in perfumery, and these she 
sucked noisily all the time. 

'The Senorita' was ninety-five years old, and her father had 
been dead more than seventy years, but she fancied herself a 



young girl and had no memory of the Don's death, imagining 
him on a trip to Spain. She chatted with grotesque gaiety of her 
young beaux, always wealthy young Spaniards who came to the 
Casa Rosa to sue for her hand. She talked much of her own 
beauty and desirability, of the balls her father, the Don, would 
give in her honor upon his return. She admitted, though, that 
her callers never left the house once they called. They didn't 
want to, said she. One even poisoned his mother to give her the 
woman's jewels. The Don always stole the valuables, but 'The 
Senorita' invariably stole back whatever she wanted. She spoke 
whimsically of the rose garden, and implied it was extremely 

During the interview she constantly gave orders to the mulatto 
servant for a great dinner that night, hinting at promises of tor- 
ture for any slave guilty of the slightest clumsiness. At last, 
quite suddenly, she fell asleep and began to snore. 

Then the reporter sneaked off and began to explore the moldy 
house. In the hall he encountered the phantom of a wobbling 
young man in a costume over a century old. This ghost dragged 
him up some slimy stairs and into the presence of half a hundred 
other spirits, all of young men. The place was a mass of writh- 
ing phantoms and oozing filth, thick with the stench of rot- 
ting human flesh. Somehow the reporter got away, fleeing 
down those stairs. At the street gate a ghost swung the gate 
wide, then fell in two, as though he had been sawed in half. 

When 'The Senorita' died, a year later, new tenants, renovat- 
ing the house, tore down the wall north of the rose garden. 
Under it lay buried about fifty skeletons, all male and young, 
undoubtedly the unfortunate beaux of the beauty of the Casa 

One of the most unusual apparitions recorded is the lady ghost 
who, instead of rapping on tables or slamming doors or frighten- 
ing folk with icy hands, appeared as a fountain in the center of 
a room in a certain downtown home. Suddenly and without 
warning, the tenant of the room saw this fountain manifested, 
a leaping, bubbling thing, throwing jets of water to the ceiling. 
And the water didn't wet anything. Investigation uncovered the 
fact that a young woman had died in the room after a blighted 

2 p 8 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

love affair. It was then decided that the fountain represented the 
tears she had shed. 

The lady on one or two occasions appeared as herself, young 
and, of course, beautiful. Then she started to spout. This ghost 
finally refused to confine herself to the one room of the house, 
however, but began appearing in all the rooms, separately and 
simultaneously. In the following years four or five families 
viewed the phenomenon. 

Gertrude Apple, New Orleans Negress, intends to be a ghost 
when she dies, and she is going to haunt the white woman for 
whom she works. 

'You better leave Gertrude alone,' the husband of her mistress 
told his wife, according to Gertrude. 'That dark gal's sure 
gonna haunt you when she dies.' 

' And I sure is gonna haunt her,' Gertrude admits. ' I'm gonna 
haunt her very soul. She's nice in her way, but she pays cheap.' 

One night a ghost came into Gertrude's room. He wore a 
flashy checked suit, carried a walking cane and he was black as 

' He come up to my bed/ Gertrude said, ' and dropped that cane 
on the floor, and it didn't make no noise at all. Then he throwed 
one of his legs over me. I yelled, "Get away from me, you!" 
And he wented. 

1 Another time,' said she, ' a rooster done appeared in my room. 
That thing changed into a man, then into a cow. Then it dis- 
appeared jest evapulated. Was I glad. Whew! Sometimes 
I'm sorry I can see spirits, they scare me so. Spirits is bad if you 
ain't a Christian, but if you is and you is borned with a veil over 
your face you ain't got no thin' to worry about. 

4 1 seen plenty of witches, too. Them things ride you at night. 
They done tried to ride me, but I hollers, "In the name of my 
religion, help me, good spirits!" And the witches run. Witches 
don't mess with spirits. I think lots of white peoples is witches. 
Others is just plain bitches. 

' I sure cried when Huey P. Long died. He was gonna give me 
money from them rich peoples. He was gonna strictly share the 
wealth. I sure cried when he was 'sassquanated. I been tryin' 
to see his spirit, but I ain't had no luck with him. But my 

Ghosts ~ 299 

grandma came back from Heaven and she tell me he is fine 
lookin' better and feelin' better than he ever did. He's got 
money, too. That I knows!' 

Aunt Jessie Collins, an authority on supernatural manifesta- 
tions, explained it all this way, 

'Ghosts is liable to look like anything,' said she. 'Some 
comes back just like they was when they died, but others turns 
into animals and balls of fire or things with long teeths and hairy 
arms. You can just walk around all your life lookin' at things 
and you don't never know when you is lookin' at a ghost. My 
grandpa seen one once and it sure did him a lot of good. 

4 You see, my grandpa was a drinkin' man, and you know how 
mens sees things when they is in their cups. Still, my grandpa 
didn't drink quite that much. We was livin' way out in the 
country then, and he had to walk to town and back to get his- 
self his gin. Well, one night he come home, walkin' down that 
dark country road, not studyin' about nothin', or nothin', and 
he heared somethin' walkin' behind him. My grandpa turned 
aroun', and seen it wasn't nothin' but a little ole white dog. 
"Hello, little ole dog," my grandpa said. "Where you goin' 
at?" Outside of that he didn't pay it no mind. Jest kept walkin '. 
That little old dog followed him clean to his door. 

' Now, when my grandpa reached his front door, he heard that 
dog paddin' up on the porch back of him, and he heared my 
grandma breathin' mad-like right inside, jest waitin' for him. 
He turned around, and say, "Go 'way, little ole dog. You don't 
want to mess in this business." 

'He went to say more, but the words jest stuck in his throat, 
'cause he seen now that that dog wasn't no dog at all, but a big 
white ghost fifteen feets tall with two heads and 'bout twelve 
arms. My grandpa jest fell right smack down on that porch and 
lay. My grandma run out when she heared the noise and drug 
him inside. She didn't hit him or nothing, 'cause he had done 
plumb fainted. He was in bed nearly a week. No, my grandma 
didn't see no ghost. I always figured that ghost knowed my 
grandma and he run when he heared her comin' out. But you 
know after that my grandpa didn't touch no liquor for more than 
a month?' 

Chapter 15 

Crazah and the Glory Road 

blinked his eyes, passed a hand over his black forehead, rubbing 
his brow gently, as if in hope of coaxing his brain to function 
with more speed. 

'His nose done smelled a wake and his ears done beared 
Gabriel's trumpet,' commented an old woman, gazing down on 
the little man in the much-too-large tuxedo. ' Ain't never been 
.a funeral in town Crazah couldn't find.' 

He ignored her completely, moving to the coffin at the other 
end of the undertaking parlors. He bowed before the corpse 
several times, his lips grinning sardonically, but his eyes, as 
always, perfectly blank. 

'Hello, Louie!' Another woman touched his elbow. 'Come 
sit by me,' she invited, and led him gently to a chair far in the 
rear of the room. 

But he couldn't sit quietly. He moved up and down, clapped 
his hands, stared at the ceiling, squirmed restlessly. When the 
singing started he contributed rhythmic clapping of his hands 
and stomping of his feet. When the praying started, he prayed 
loud and with all the energy he could muster. Only when the 

Crazah and the Glory Road 3 o i 

preacher began to preach did Louie retreat to a seat, to sit there 
with his bulging eyes glued to the preacher's mouth, as if he 
were soaking up every word. 

Time came to eat; ham and crackers and coffee were passed 
among the mourners, and he helped himself at least three times. 
Then, slouching down in his chair, eyes closed, mouth open, he 
went to sleep. 

Every Negro in New Orleans knows Louie Williams, called, 
variously, Crazah, The Dead and Alive Man, The Goofy Man 
or just THAT Man. Whenever and wherever there is a funeral, 
Louis will be there as surely as is Death itself. 

Perhaps this Crazah is only a personified exaggeration of col- 
ored people's love for 'buryin's'; for if Negroes don't greet the 
actual act of dying with joy, they certainly make the most of 
the rites that follow it. And the more important the person, the 
more elaborate are those ceremonies certain to be. Negroes pre- 
pare for dying all their lives. As one of them put it, ' Moses died, 
Elijah died. All the strong men die and all the weak men die. 
There is no two ways about it, we all must die. So why not be 
ready for it, brother?' They save money carefully for this inev- 
itable day, join numerous lodges and funeral societies. 

4 A woman's got to belong to at least seven secret societies if 
she 'spects to get buried with any style,' revealed Luella John- 
son . ' And the more lodges you belongs to, the more music you 
gits when you goes to meet your Maker. I belongs to enough 
now to have shoes on my feets. I knows right now what I'm 
gonna have at my wake. I already done checked off chicken 
salad and coffee. 

' I'm sure lookin' forward to my wake. They is wakin' me for 
four nights and I is gonna have the biggest funeral the church 
ever had. That's why everything I makes goes to the church 
and them societies. I wants a pink casket and I'm gonna be 
wearin' a pink evenin' dress, with pink satin shoes on my feets 
and a pink hat on my haid so they won't look too hard at my 

'Geddes and Moss is the funeral parlor where they has the 
real 'ristocratic buryin's. They serves them cocktails and little 
sandwiches and big society suppers. Sometimes they gits so 

$02 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

many peoples at wakes they gotta feed 'em in shifts. But most 
people like chicken and spaghetti or weiner sandwiches. The 
mens always brings liquor and then you really hears some 
shoutin' and weepin'. Does they put it on! They always has a 
light in the coffin, shinin' right smack in the dead person's face, 
and a clock to show the sad hour they was took. A girl corpse 
is turned on one side and her right hand hangs out the casket 
with a big dinner ring on one finger. Man, it sure looks pretty! 
'Course they takes it off before they close the coffin, 'cause they 
uses it all the time. In their other hand girl corpses always car- 
ries long white gloves. All the mens is laid away in them stylish 
full dress suits, and is kind of raised up high so you can see 'em 

' When my husband died I give him a fine funeral. I went in 
deep mourning and wore me a long widow's veil. Every day I'd 
go to the cemetery and cry all day by his grave. But his spirit 
started to haunt me some thin' terrible. I had chickens and every 
night he'd come back wearin' a white apron and shoo my chick- 
ens. Every mornin' some of 'em would be dead. We had a 
horse and that haunt done drove me and him both crazy. Then 
I got mad and I quit goin* to the cemetery, and I took off that 
widow's veil. I put black pepper 'round the sills of all my doors. 
That stopped him; that always chases ghostses. You know I 
wouldn't go near no graveyard on All Saints' Day for no thin'. 
No, sir! Them evil spirits just whizzes by you like the wind and 
knocks you flat on the ground.' 

The big ' 'ristocratic' funerals are the ones Crazah likes best. 
They're more exciting than the humbler affairs and there's more 
to eat and drink and more music. And next to death, food and 
music are Crazah's passions. He never leaves any wake until the 
eating is over, though he is very tolerant regarding what is 
served. If the family is well fixed, they'll be chicken and whis- 
key, and he'll help himself freely to the chicken, but will pass up 
the whiskey, as he doesn't drink or smoke. If the family is poor, 
he is perfectly satisfied to feast on cheese sandwiches and coffee. 
After eating he usually makes his departure, unless there is only 
the one wake in town. In that case, he'll curl up and nap until 
breakfast is served. He particularly likes home funerals, for 

Cra^ah and the Glory Road 

there is often more to eat at these than at the affairs in the under- 
taking establishments. 

Joe Geddes, of Geddes and Moss, said, ' Louie has a grand time 
at funerals and wakes. And don't think he's as crazy as people 
imagine he is. Oh, I admit he's a little cracked, but aren't we 
all? He sure knows how to get by without working. He does 
all his eating at wakes and most of his sleeping. He always 
dresses in clothes people give him, and they're always too large 
because Louie's so small, hardly five feet. Sometimes he'll show 
up in a frayed tuxedo, other times in overalls. But we like to 
have him around. Everybody knows him. 

' The boys played a joke on him one time. We weren't so busy 
that night and one of the fellows dressed up in a sheet and stood 
beside an open casket. We told Louie there was a spirit in the 
back and he ought to go see it. Louie went on back and just 
stood there staring at the fellow in the white outfit. It was okay 
until that "ghost" moved. Then Louie let out one yell and ran 
right out of the building. Afterwards he explained, "Me not 
scared of dead man, but scared of man that moves." 

In his befuddled mind Louie considers himself a preacher. 
Sometimes he attempts to preach a full sermon at funerals, but no 
one can understand very much that he says. At church he's 
always testifying and leading the singing. But he'll never 
preach a word unless somebody gives him money. 'Preachers 
don't work for nothin ',' he says. And neither will he do any 
other sort of work. 'Preachers don't work at nothin' but 
preachin' !' is another of his strong beliefs. 

Sunshine Money is his favorite preacher. Sunshine Money is 
known all over the state as a hard praying soul-saver, and also 
as 'the man who changes automobiles every year,' the latter 
indicative of his financial success. 

Crazah loves to imitate Sunshine Money at funerals. He 
stoops over and waves his hands and carries on just like Sunshine 
Money does. Johnny Jackson related this story at Geddes and 

'Louie went to a funeral Sunshine Money was conducting. 
The body was brought into the church at one o'clock, and Sun- 
shine preached that soul into Heaven from then until five-thirty, 

5 o 4 ~ Gumbo Ya-Ya 

and was still going strong. Louie hadn't been to the wake, had 
arrived at the funeral late, and hadn't eaten a thing, so he wasn't 
having a very good time. He kept squirming around on his 
bench until the woman next to him asked him what was wrong. 
Louie said, "Late. Let's go to graveyard." Then he went to 
work on Sunshine Money. That ole preacher was still going to 
town preaching that man into Heaven. Louie stood up, pointed 
a finger toward the ceiling, and said, "That's him. That's him. 
He's almost there !' ' Sunshine Money frowned, looked at Louie, 
at the ceiling, then at his big gold watch. Finally he said, "I 
guess I got to stop now. He ain't quite in Heaven, but he's 
close. Louie done showed him to me. I guess that nigger can 
go the rest of the way by hisself . ' ' And with that the funeral left 
for the cemetery. You think that Crazah's dumb?' 

When Mother Clara James Hyde passed to her reward, Louie 
had a wake to attend that was definitely in the A-i class. 
Mother Hyde's body rested in a casket of orchid plush. She wore 
a gown of royal purple, trimmed generously with 'ruffles on the 
bosom upon which so many had poured forth tears of woe. On 
her head she wore a crown of brilliant rhinestones, and inside the 
casket was a pink bedlight; over all, cascading frothily to the 
floor was a filmy veil of brightest red. The followers of the 
famous healer and prophesier had placed her in a setting of which 
they could be proud. Tall palms arched above the coffin and at 
each end was a standing basket holding a lavish bouquet of 
flowers, and by each of these, in constant vigil, sat one of Mother 
Hyde's co-workers, silent and lachrymose, except for occasional 
emotional outbursts, when one would howl: 'Lord Jesus, bless 
Thy Name!' or 'Mother ain't daid. She's just sleepin'!' 

As the church she had conducted for so many years St. 
James Temple No. z filled, the speakers' platform crowded 
with the pastors of other churches. The service opened with the 
singing of 'What a Friend We Have in Jesus,' accompanied by 
the feeble notes of a loose-stringed piano. Suddenly all heads 
turned. Mother Kemper, resplendent in white velvet, was sway- 
ing up the aisle, undulating slowly and voluptuously to the 
music. A voice shouted, 'Now we is gonna hear some real 
preachin' !' But it was not to be. Mother Kemper struck a very 

Cra%ah and the Glory Road ^ o f 

effective pose before the casket for a few minutes, then modestly 
retired to a seat with the other church leaders. '.'$-. 

Now the competition began in earnest. One preacher after 
another rose to extoll the virtues of Mother Hyde. One of the 
reverends was heard to remark, as the competition grew fiercer, 
' This is gettin' to be a cutthroat business !' Every speaker talked 
for at least an hour. And between sermons solos were rendered, 
mourners clapping their hands and stomping their feet to the 
music, shouting 'Amen! Amen!' at the end of every line. The 
first ' passing out' occurred. A woman fell flat on her face before 
the casket. 

Mother Kemper at last contributed her bit. Standing ma- 
jestically in the center of the platform, her eyes raised and her 
white velvet clad arms outstretched, she intoned, 'I can see the 
Angel Gabriel lookin' through the periscope of glory down the 
long road of time and he sees a weary traveler. That's Mother 
Hyde carryin' her burden of good deeds to the Golden Gate.' 

Members of the congregation shouted : 

'Very nice!' 

'Sure feels good.' 

'Tell it to me!' 

'Mother don't want to come back to this world. Sleep on, 

'Amen, sister! Amen!' 

'Lawd, you knows our names and the numbers of our pages! 
You calls us like you pleases and if you pleases!' 

It continued until midnight. Then one of the guards sprang 
to her feet, her emotions at a boiling point, and screamed, 'Jesus 
God! Bless Thy Name! Bless Thy Name!' Her head lolling 
around on her thin neck and her eyeballs protruding, she pro- 
ceeded to collapse. This seemed to bring on a recess, which was 
spent by everyone making numerous trips to the basement for 
ham sandwiches and coffee. 

This over, the body was viewed by all present, tears streaming 
down dusky cheeks, big black bucks crying like children as they 
gazed down on the crowned head of Mother Hyde. Then the 
speeches started again. 

A preacher ventured to say that Mother Hyde had had a fault. 

j o 6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

This was answered by catcalls and cries of, ' Sit down ! 4 Tain't so, 
brother L' Then he explained her fault had been in too much 
goodness of heart, in trusting people too far. Now they shouted, 
'Say on, brother! Ain't it the truth!' 

A quartet rose and sang, jazzing their hymn, patting their feet 
and swaying. When they finished the crowd was swaying and 
shaking with them. There was no avoiding an encore. Some- 
one cried, 'We is gonna sing, we is gonna shout, we is gonna 
preach until everybody is gone.' 

And it went on all night long. A wake to warm the cockles of 
Louis Williams 's heart. 

Marching to the cemetery is a mournful and sad affair, but it's 
an important kind of mournfulness and an impressive kind of 
sadness. The Young and True Friends Benevolent Association of 
Carrollton, yth Division, turned out in full force not long ago, 
when a member went to glory. To the poignant strains of 
'Massa's in the Cold, Cold Ground,' attired in black suits, 
white shirts, black derbies and white gloves, with arm ribbons 
of black and silver, and led by the gorgeously attired, six-foot, 
coal-black Grand Marshal, who wore a jet velvet cordon 
trimmed with silver braid and stars, they marched with solem- 
nity, with dignity, and gusto, their brand new, shiny-black 
shoes keeping perfect time with the music. The organization 
banner was red lined in silver and bore the words ' Young and 
True Friends' in huge letters of gold. In the center were two 
hands clasped across a turbulent sea, a white dove and a pair of 
closely cuddled and burning hearts. One member carried a gavel 
wrapped in black crepe, another an American flag, and still an- 
other a Blue Jack, with silver stars on a blue background. 

The ceremonies at the grave were short and simple, but every- 
one stayed until the last clod of dirt was put on the casket. A 
sister of the deceased waited until everyone else reached the 
grave before she began a slow march forward, the crowd parting 
to let her through; she was supported on each side by a woman, 
in a condition of semi-prostration, and moaned over and over 
again, ' I cain't stand it! I cain't stand it! Jesus have mercy on 
me! I cain't stand it!' As she reached the hole in the ground, 
her knees buckled under her and she collapsed completely. 

Cra%ah and the Glory Road 

But when the procession was half a block from the cemetery, 
enroute home, the band burst into 'Just Stay a Little While,' 
and all the True Friends performed individual and various dances, 
and the sister, but lately unconscious with grief, was soon truck- 
ing with the rest of them. 

'I said Sister Cordelia might outlive me, but she's sure gonna 
die.' That's what one of Cordelia Johnson's friends admitted 
was her conviction the last time she had seen Sister Cordelia 

'She died an unexpected death due to bad symptoms,' another 

On the raised cover of Sister Johnson's gray casket was a small 
hammered tin clock with the words 'The Sad Hour' painted 
under it in black, and the clock's hands pointing to the hour of 
death, this being a favorite addition to coffins among Negroes. 
Similarly, all clocks in the house were stopped at the time Sister 
Johnson died. 

The wake was anything but dull. One of the sisters described 
it, 'We had solos and duets and hymn-singin' all night long. 
The womens was passin' out right and left. A doctor was kept 
busy and the smellin' salts was more popular than the food.' 

The husband and two daughters made a most spectacular en- 
trance at the funeral, coming up the stairs and into the room, 
screaming and moaning, alternately. The daughter who hadn't 
seen her mother for nine years made the most noise. 

'What'll I do! What'll I do!' she wailed. 'I ain't got no 
mother to consulate me. Poor me!' Facing the mourners, her 
.eyes squeezed tight, but her mouth wide open, she shrieked, 
'Mother! Mother! I'm goin' to join you. Yes, I am! Yes, I 
am! It's a horrible hole. That's all it is, a horrible black hole. 
I ain't got no mother! Ooh, Jesus!' 

She fell to her knees, rocked back and forth, tearing at her 
hair with her hands, her black face swollen and twisted. 

' I ain't got no mother to consulate me!' she screamed. 'Jesus 
Gawd!' Then she fell forward and was carried out. 

The church service was just as eventful. After the preaching 
and the praying and the psalm-singing, members of the various 
societies circled the casket. Some of them would shout and 

$ o 8 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

scream hysterically, finally fainting and having to be carried out 
One huge woman taxed the strength of five men. Other sisters 
just kept walking up and down, releasing screams periodically. 
This is called the 'walkin' spirits.' One immense sister almost 
tore down the church when she had a sudden attack of the 
'runnin' spirits.' Some of the women trucked, others shook all 
over, one kept knocking off as many hats as she could possibly 

Even Crazah, a connoisseur in such matters, had to admit Cor- 
delia Johnson's wake and funeral were events to remember. 

Crazah is probably the only Negro in New Orleans who does 
not belong to at least one burial society. Joe Geddes has prom- 
ised to bury him free of charge and in befitting fashion. Besides 
Geddes says, ' He brings me business. You know, no one under- 
stands how Louie locates all the deaths. Some people say he 
finds sick people and prays that they die, but I don't believe that. 
Often he'll tell me about a death of which I didn't know, so I 
can go and bid for the job. I won't forget those favors.' 

There are literally hundreds of Negro lodges, burial societies 
and similar organizations in New Orleans. For a small weekly 
fee these benevolent and mutual aid associations furnish a doctor 
when a member is ill and a funeral of a specified type and price 
most often a hundred-dollar affair. Every detail is included in 
the contract, though it is of course true that the more societies 
belonged to, the grander is the funeral. The following are only 
a few of the better known organizations : 

Ladies Independence B. M. A. A. 

Juvenile Co-operators Fraternal Society 

Ladies Morality B. M. A. A. 

Harmony B. M. A. A. 

Young Friends of Hope B. M. A. A. 

The New Ladies of Magnolia B. M. A. A. 

Hall of the Ladies, Friends of Louisiana 

Young Men's Provident B. M. A. A. 

Ladies and Young Ladies St. Celena B. M. A. A. 

Artisan's B. A. 

Young Men of St. Michael B. M. A. A. 

Ladies Kind Deeds B. M. A. A. 

Ladies Protective B. M. A. A. 

Young Friends of Order B. M. A. A. 

Cra%ah and the Glory Road - $ o g 

And in a fashion suitable to Louisiana, many have French 
names, such as: 

Societe de Bienfasancc Mutuelle 

Les Jeumis Amis 

Societe Des Francs Amis 

New Ladies Dieu Nous Protege 

Nouvelle Societc Des Amis Sinceres 

Societe Des Amis Inseparable 

Because the Negro is tremendously impressed by ceremony and 
especially by uniforms of all kinds, these organizations have 
been extremely successful. Every funeral worth anything calls 
for at least one band of music, street marching, and uniforms. 
Solemn dirges are always rendered on the way to the cemetery; 
the hottest swing numbers -when homeward bound. Uniforms 
usually include hats with plumes, brass buttons and medals, 
golden epaulets. The ones that require the carrying of a sword 
are particularly favored. There isn't anything that lends dignity 
and importance to a mourner like a big shiny sword. 

A typical hundred-dollar funeral is offered by the Crescent 
Burial Society. Premiums are twenty-five cents a week and the 
deceased must have been a member six months to receive full ben- 
efits. These consist of a casket peach-colored for young 
people, gray or lavender for old ones a harmonizing shroud, 
two automobiles, a floor rug, candles, and wakes for two nights. 
The family must supply the food, however, and other associa- 
tions the music, if any. 

There are many details attached to this job of putting away 
the dead which must be observed. They must always be buried 
facing the east and the rising sun, if you want them to go to 
Heaven, for if they are buried facing the west, they will surely 
go to Hell; thus might advantage be taken of a relative of whom 
one was not overfond. And everyone should be buried wearing 
a new pair of shoes on their feet; these are of course essential for 
that long journey ahead. When it rains on a corpse it is a sign 
he regretted dying. If a person dies on a Sunday and is buried on 
a Sunday, he is certain to become an angel. 

Watch out if you sneeze while eating! It's not from using 

$10 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

black pepper too lavishly; it's a sign of death. And should you 
dream of pork meat or a wedding or a proposal of marriage, 
you're going to hear of a death soon. You can smile if a hearse 
passes you on the street because that's a sign of a happy day 
ahead for you. If you'll hold the hand of a small child when 
passing a graveyard, the ghosts won't bother you. Some mem- 
ber of the family should always throw a small piece of red brick 
into the grave or tomb before it is closed, as a last good-bye. 

When a woman dies in confinement she must be buried in white 
stockings and black shoes. The feet of the corpse must always 
be borne out of the house first because the feet always enter and 
leave the house first; when laid out the feet of the deceased must 
point always to a window or door. One way of laying out the 
dead is to pin geranium or ivy leaves all over a white pillow, but 
these must be removed before the coffin is closed and, after the 
funeral, carefully burned, the ashes and pins thrown into a 
toilet. No one pin must be dropped, for it would be the worst 
sort of luck for anyone to pick it up. 

Mattie Ford contributed a homemade way of embalming. 

'If a person dies and you don't have no money to have 'em 
embalmed to keep the body right you buy yourself a nickel's 
worth of charcoal, two packs of King Bee Tobacco and some 
whiskey. You beats the charcoal up fine as dust and mixes it 
with the tobacco. When you wash the corpse you takes half 
of an old sheet and puts the tobacco and charcoal in that sheet 
and puts it on the body like you does a diaper on a baby. Then 
you holds that dead man up and pours a bottle of whiskey down 
his mout'. You can keep a body as long as you wants if you 
does that.' 

'If somebody treats you bad and are mean to you,' says Luella 
Johnson, 'git yourself some black candles and go to St. Roch's 
Cemetery. Light one candle before each of nine tombs, any 
tombs will do. When you gits to the last one, turn your back 
to it and hit it hard as you can and say, "Oh, Lawd! Remove 
this stumbin' block from my path. ' ' In nine days that man gonna 
die or leave you alone. 

' When a man or woman is bad and won't do no good and no 
harm comes to them they makes a novena to the Devil and sells 

South Rampart Street Sports 

A Cult Leader Exhorts his Flock to Obedience 



J ack-in-the-Box 

Hands of the Dead Reach Out for the Living 

Cra^ah and the Glory Road 

themself to him for seven years. He sure do take care of them, 

By far the most elaborate Negro funeral ever held in New Or- 
leans was awarded the late Major J. Osey, member of twenty-odd 
different lodges, several of which he had organized and many in 
which he had served as high dignitary at one time or another. 
The death notice in the newspapers, one of the longest on record, 
read as follows : 

OSEY At his residence, 2.311 Upperline Street, Tuesday, 
July zo, 1937, at 11:55 o'clock p.m., Major ADOLPHE J. 
OSEY, a native of Bellalliance, Louisiana, and a resident of 
this city for many years. Beloved husband of Henrietta Webb 
Osey, grandfather of Oscar J. Osey, uncle of Emanuel, Jr., Ed- 
gar Porter, Eddie and Joseph Howard, Manuella Porter Mc- 
Cleanton, Henrietta Webb Gumbs, Ethel Howard McTurner, 
great-uncle of Nellie Porter Walker, James and Juanita Porter, 
brother-in-law of John Webb and Emanuel B. Porter, and a 
host of other relatives. 

Grand Staff Patriot, i3th Regiment of G. U. of O. of Amer- 
ica, Louisiana Creole Lodge, G. U. O. of O. F. 1918, Past 
Grand Masters Council No. 30, Orleans Patriotic and Auxil- 
iary, No. 7, Queen Esther H. H. of Ruth No. 3964, Cyprus 
Lodge, A. A. & F. M. No. 43, Capitol Lodge of Elks No. 595, 
Progressive Friends Ben. Ass., Young Men's Perpetual Help. 
Ben. Ass. Live Wire Circle of 5th Baptist Church, Star Light 
Circle of Tulane Baptist Church, Pastor, officers and friends of 
Trinity M. E. Church are respectfully invited to attend the 
funeral, which will take place from the late residence, Sunday, 
July 15, 1937, at 11:30 o'clock a.m. 

Religious services 5th Baptist Church, Sixth and South Rob- 
ertson Streets. 

Reverend W. B. McClelland officiating. 
Interment St. Louis Cemetery No. 2.. 

The Major was waked for five days and nights, lay in state at 
his residence with both public and private wakes by the numer- 
ous lodges to which he belonged, and all during these five days, 
the small four room cottage was crowded with 'brothers' and 
' sisters. ' The front door was heavily draped with a dark canopy 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

of velvet edged with silver fringe, bearing the inscription ' Lou- 
isiana Creole Lodge, 1918, C. U. of O.' 

Laid out in the front room, in a casket of purple plush, with a 
lining of heavily shirred white silk, a bedlight attached to the 
coffin's lid poured down on the Major's black face, with the 
mouth fixed in a wide and snowy smile that revealed every tooth. 
The toothsome expression and the teeth were real ! sym- 
bolized the fact that he had gone to Heaven ' with a contract in 
his hand.' 

He was dressed in the uniform of the Odd Fellows, jet black 
with shining brass buttons and epaulets of gold braid and fringe. 
One white-gloved hand held the purple fez of the Elks; around 
his waist was a white lambskin apron of the Supreme Council of 
the Masons and on his breast was pinned a medal of the Past 
Grand Council Encampment of the Past Patriarch, signifying, 
according to one of the mourners, ' that the Major was in the 
groove.' Beside him rested the hat of the Odd Fellows, a black 
continental with a white and purple plume. On top of the 
closed end of the casket was a Bible, an Elk's sphere, small brass 
buttons from the Progressive Friends, a rosette from the Odd 
Fellows, and a small artificial wreath representing the laurel 
wreath of the Masons. 

The procession was led by the six-foot three-inch, black and 
burly Grand Marshal of the Odd Fellows, trailed by his clan. 
His every move was kept in perfect time to the slow but ' stomp 
swingin' ' music of the thirteen-piece band. Only the Odd Fel- 
lows marched on foot, all of them resplendent in their black and 
gold uniforms, with braid and epaulets and other gew-gaws, hats 
with plumes and either white or bright yellow gloves. Mem- 
bers of other lodges rode in big and shiny black limousines. 
Many of the mourners marched, however, and among them was 
Crazah, swaying and swinging his dwarfish little tody with the 
rest of them, his face wreathed in a smile of delight at such a 
grand and glorious affair. From the house to the cemetery was 
a five-mile hike, but he never faltered. 

Behind the dark Odd Fellows came the Patriarchs and the 
Household of Ruth, the women's auxiliaries, the Patriarchs in 
white flannel costumes much like the men's, the Household of 

Cra%ah and the Glory Road 3 1 $ 

Ruth in blue, all carrying swords. The last three Odd Fellows 
carried a gilded but rather seedy looking lion, a lamb, and a bow 
and arrow, the significance of these being a lodge secret. A statue 
of Father Time rode in the first limousine behind the marchers. 

An even larger crowd waited at the church than had been pres- 
ent at the house. The coffin was removed from the hearse one 
block away and carried inside by the pall bearers. On the church 
steps there was shouting and weeping, as most of the mourners 
fought to get close enough to touch the coffin. A woman 
screamed, 'There is a good man gone from here!' and promptly 
fainted. In less than a minute four others followed suit. 

The Fifth Baptist Church was packed. The crowd filled it to 
the doors. They did everything but climb up the bright red 
beams to perch on the bright red rafters under the sky-blue 

Before the pulpit, at the head of the coffin and in full view of 
the congregation, was placed Father Time, a statue wearing scar- 
let pants, immense gold wings and a self-satisfied grimace on his 
bewhiskered countenance; and carrying an hour glass and a 
scythe. The entire church was decora ted for the occasion. Black 
and white crepe draped the entrance door and pulpit. Above the 
door to the men's room, on one side, was a large picture of the 
Virgin right over the word 'MEN'; and above the word 
' WOMEN,' on the other side, was a picture of the Sacred Heart. 
The mixed choir wore black robes and appropriate funereal ex- 
pressions. At the entrance one of the bands struck up 'I Am 
Coming to You.' 

The Masons opened the service by filing past the casket and 
each dropping in a rose, the last one tossing in a crown of ever- 
greens. Then the Reverend W. C. McClelland offered a prayer. 
Programs, distributed throughout the church, read as follows: 

i. Devotional 

2.. Remarks from the Deacons' Board Bro. H. Walker 

3. Remarks from the Stewardess' Board Sister Walker 

4. Solo Miss Irene Williams, Greater Tulane Baptist 


5. Remarks Sister Louise Walker 

6. Solo Brother Joseph Young 

314 ~ Gumbo Ya-Ya 

7. Solo Brother O. W. Owens 

8. Soto Past Grand Exalted Ruler 

J. C. Hensley of Order of Elks No, 595 

9. Solo Past Grand Ruler 

Dr. B. Thompson of Order of Elks No. 595 

10. Condolence Auxiliary No. 7 

11. Remarks D. M. Patterson His life as an Odd Fellow 
12.. Remarks Reverend G. C. Amos an Odd Fellow 

13. Condolence From Queen Esther H. H. No. 3964 

14. Past Most Noble Governors Agnes Johnson 

1 5 . Remarks Grand Master of District Grand Lodge No. zi 

1 6. Grand United Order of Odd Fellows Honorable William 

17. Remarks Endowment Secretary and Treasurer Dr. 

J. H. Lowery 

18. Remarks Reverend J. R. Poe, St. James A. M. E. 


19. Remarks Reverend T. R. Albert, Trinity A. M. E. 

2.0. Duet Sisters R. Knight and F. Garrison 

2.1. Sermon Reverend W. B. McClelland 

Unfortunately, the funeral had been so late in starting that the 
program had to be considerably shortened, much to the disap- 
pointment of many brothers and sisters, who expressed them- 
selves on the subject in loud and far from dulcet tones. When 
anyone spoke too long, the Reverend McClelland pulled him by 
the coat and made him sit down. Some of the remarks were: 

'He was a Gawd-sent man!' 

'He was too true to falsify!' 

'We wants heavy prayin', and mournin' what's its deepest.' 

'His relatives were many, but his faults few!' 

Odd Fellows crossed swords over the door, as the body was 
borne from the church. 

Major Osey was interred in an upper vault an 'oven' in 
Saint Louis Cemetery No. z. Lieutenant-Colonel Naomi Patterson, 
of the Women's Auxiliary of the Odd Fellows, read a burial dia- 

Crafah and the Glory Road 3 j / 

Jogue, particularly praising the late Major's tongue, cheeks, 
eyes and nose, and ending this by placing a bouquet of evergreens 
within the vault, just as taps were blown on a bugle by her 
daughter, Mrs. James LaFourche. Following that Mrs. Patter- 
son rendered a solo, 'The Will of God Is Accomplished,' while 
mourners paid their last respects by throwing handfuls of ashes 
into the tomb. Just as the coffin slid into the vault, rain came, 
a hard shower, which everybody considered an unfortunate 
omen for Major Osey on his long journey up the glory road. 

But, nevertheless, as the mourners left the cemetery gates be- 
hind, the entire aspect of the procession changed. The bands 
changed their tune and the marchers began trucking, and all the 
way back to Major Osey's house gaiety was complete and 

So ended one of the most colorful funerals Negro New Orleans 
has ever seen. Even that funeral expert, that Crazah, that Louie 
Williams, had never seen its like before. His eyes bulged and his 
mouth hung agape at the splendor and magnificence of the whole 
affair. He even forgot to eat a toasted ham sandwich, which he 
carried, gripped tightly in one fist, all day long. 

Chapter 16 


famous in old New Orleans because of an inordinate fondness for 
funerals. So copious were the tears she shed on these occasions 
that she earned the name of Saule Pleurer Weeping Willow. 
In some rural sections of Louisiana it is still customary for every- 
one to attend any and all funerals within a radius of ten miles. 
In other sections announcements like the following, which ap- 
peared in the Coif ax Chronicle May 14, 1935, are obeyed with com- 
plete seriousness: 

There will be a working of the Fairfield graveyard on Satur- 
day, June 8th. Everybody invited to come and bring tools to 
work with and a basket of dinner. 

The whole community turns out, to cut grass and weed, to 
clean and sweep graves and walks. In some cases great pains are 
taken to keep the grave free of grass; graves are sometimes even 
covered with sand. Other people prefer the grass and fre- 
quently plant rosebushes and other flowers. 

There is nothing macabre about the day. Spirits are as high as 
if the workers were on a picnic; laughter echoes among the 


tombs. Children play along the shaded walks and chase each 
other over graves. Food is consumed with usual Louisiana gusto 
while the eaters sit on copings and tomb steps. And before de- 
parting homeward mutual compliments and other remarks gar- 
nish the day's achievements : 

' Your place sure looks nice, Miz Joe. If Mr. Joe come out of 
his coffin he sure would be proud.' 

' Grandma don't get so many flowers for the children she's got, 
but she don't do bad.' 

Children are admonished: 

'Honey, don't you touch them flowers!' 

' Goddammit, I'm gonna whip you good. Ain't you ashamed?' 

'Charlie, look at the seat of your pants. My God!' 

As the homes of the living are regularly cleaned and deco- 
rated, so are the homes of the dead. And in Louisiana grave- 
yards the decorating is unrestrained. Ground plots are covered 
with vari-colored shells or bright bits of broken glass. Oyster 
shells or pop bottles, the latter shoved neck-downward into the 
earth, are popular as finishing effects to border graves and walks, 
ind are thought to be both neat and fancy in an appropriate 
sort of way. Conch shells, painted pastel shades, perhaps gilded, 
silvered, even painted a doleful black, add a not ineffective 
touch, as do china dogs, pig banks, hand-colored serving trays, 
pin trays, and vases of every conceivable kind, size, shape and 

Artificial flowers are common, are often made at home of 
paper, wax, silk, beads or silver foil. 'Fish bouquets,' flowers 
and wreaths made of garfish scales used to be favorites, but are 
seldom seen now. In sections where Catholicism is widespread 
graves and tombs are profusely adorned with holy statues, holy 
pictures, rosaries draped over stone or iron crosses, and crucifixes, 
sometimes enclosed in glass cases to protect them from the 

Each Louisiana cemetery has its individualities, its interesting 
graves and tombs. At Monroe, in the Old City Cemetery, is the 
tomb of Sidney W. Saunders, which is surmounted by a life-sized 
statue of a man holding a scroll in one hand, which, when 
closely examined, proves to be a stone replica of a marriage li- 
cense, reading: 

5 1 8 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

This is to certify that Sidney W. Saunders and Anne Livingston 
of Monroe, in the State of Louisiana, were by me joined to- 
gether in holy matrimony, March 15, 1875. 
Witnesses : 

John W. Rice John W. Young 

Frank Gregory Justice of the Peace 

City of St. Louis 

The local explanation is that there had been some doubt in the 
minds of the residents of Monroe as to the legality of the Saun- 
derses marriage, and that Mrs. Saunders had the monument 
erected as a rebuke to the gossips. It is said that she also had her 
husband's desk and chair placed within the large tomb, and there 
she would sit for hours, giving unrestrained vent to her grief. 

Berthoud Cemetery, some twenty miles from New Orleans, is 
the source of the most fantastic legend in the entire State. Here, 
it is said, the remains of Jean Lafitte, John Paul Jones and Na- 
poleon Bonaparte lie in three adjoining graves. Lafitte is sup- 
posed to have rescued Bonaparte from St. Helena, leaving a 
double in his place, and the Emperor to have died while being 
carried to Louisiana; then he was buried here beside the Bayou 
Barataria. John Paul Jones, according to the legend, joined the 
Lafitte band, was killed in action, and buried in another of the 
graves. Then, when Lafitte died, his pirates buried him in a 
grave between the other two. The fact that Jones died in 1792., 
when Lafitte was about twelve years old, doesn't seem to bother 
anyone . 

There are no headstones, no inscriptions. The owner of the 
graveyard, Madame Toinette Perrin, says simply: 'I tell you like 
my mamma and my gran mere tell me. Lafitte is buried dere. 
Other mans? Napoleon? Mais, out! Zat is his name. Me, I'm 
old, and don't remember like I used to, but I know dis: every 
year some woman comes to zat grave on All Saints' Day, and 
light candle and pray. She say she come from far away and he 
is her kin. And she give me plenty money to keep his grave nice. 
Where she live? I don't remember, me. But she come from far 
off place once every year, on All Saints' Day. Zat is all I know, 
me.' On certain occasions the trio of ghosts appear. (See 
'Ghosts,' pages 2.71-300.) 

Cemeteries 319 

On the grave of Adelate Trosclairee, who departed this world 
March i, 1909, there is a wreath of pink and white paper flowers 
tied with purple ribbon, a vase, a vinegar cruet, a whiskey jigger 
turned upside down, an old-fashioned cocktail glass and a 
striped water glass, turned down. On another grave, a half- 
filled bottle of medicine (filled at the Gretna Pharmacy, Decem- 
ber 2.1, 1938), a deep saucer filled with oil, a purse mirror and a 
tiny white elephant served as adornments. 

Whether Napoleon rests on Bayou Barataria is, of course, 
doubtful, but there is no doubt as to the numbers of his admirers 
in Louisiana. When he died, the citizens of New Orleans held a 
funeral for him. The Louisiana Gazette of December 2.0, 182.1, 
described the services. 

The adherents of the late Napoleon Bonaparte who reside 
in this city, having caused a splendid bier or catafalco to be 
erected in the Catholic Church, which was hung in black for 
the occasion, they yesterday walked there in procession, and a 
funeral service was performed by the priests. Mr. Canouge de- 
livered an oration to the crowd who attended the church; and 
the singers of the French Company of players sang several 
pieces during the celebration of Grand Mass. 

A collection was also made in the church, which produced a 
very handsome sum for the poor. 

There was once in Washington Parish, as there is in most 
places, a man named McGee. This one kept a stable, and is said 
to have been cruel to his horses. When anyone remonstrated 
with him, he would laugh and say, 'If I'm as bad as that, I guess 
I'll be a mule when I die.' McGee donated a cemetery plot to 
the poor of his parish and when he passed on was buried there, 
a handsome headstone marking his grave. Soon afterward the 
outline of a mule's head appeared on three sides of this stone 
and, despite washing, scraping, even a coat of paint, may still 
be clearly seen. 

Graveland Cemetery, in Orange Grove, has a pair of unusual 
tombs, in each of which is buried a young boy. Over each one 
is a monument that is a replica of a straw hat, a pair of shoes and 

$20 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

a pair of stockings. In a cemetery in Baton Rouge a bereaved 
father built a doll house on top of the tomb of his small daughter. 

McDonoghville Cemetery, at Gretna, was once a part of the 
plantation of John McDonogh, famous Louisiana philanthro- 
pist. The body of McDonogh rested here for ten years, -was then 
moved to Baltimore, his place of birth. This is probably the 
most democratic cemetery in the South, for Protestant and 
Catholic lie side by side, instead of being separated by fences as 
is customary in the State; and scattered among the graves of 
'respectable' citizens are those of more adventurous spirits, in- 
cluding a few hanged murderers. The sexton explained : ' They is 
got all kinds buried here, people killed, people murdered; any- 
body can come here. Everybody is welcome to McDonoghville 
Cemetery!' The sole exception to this is the division of Whites 
and Negroes by a neat picket fence. 

Negroes of the section idolized McDonogh, and two of them, 
Fanny Thornton and her son Edward, took it upon themselves 
lovingly to tend his burial place, even after the remains had been 
removed. When Fanny died in 1887, Edward had her laid to 
rest in the abandoned tomb, and not until 1890, when adminis- 
trators of the estate took steps to build a monument over the 
tomb, did they find what had once been Fanny. These remains 
were promptly removed to the other side of the picket fence. 

At Grace Church Cemetery in St. Francisville is the grave of a 
United States naval officer whose death ' stopped a war' so that 
he could be buried. The New Orleans Times-Picayune of October 
i4, 1937, recounted the story in detail. In 1863, after New Or- 
leans had fallen to Farragut's fleet and Butler's army, Federal 
gunboats, among them the U.S.S. Albatross, ranged up and down 
the Mississippi River, the latter under the temporary command 
of Lieutenant Commander J. E. Hart. Captain Hart became 
stricken with fever and, while delirious in his cabin, shot him- 
self. All this occurred while St. Francisville was being shelled, 
the town reported to be a 'perfect hotbed of secession,' and the 
' constant resort of the Confederates . . . where they were contin- 
uously urged on to commit acts of plunder and abuse . . . , ' ac- 
cording to Navy Department files in Washington. 

While the battle raged a boat was put out from the Albatross, a 

Cemeteries -521 

white flag of truce at its bow, and bearing the body of Hart. 
Upon landing, the officer in charge requested that they be al- 
lowed to bury Hart with Masonic honors, as he had requested 
before he died, and Captain W. W. Leake, himself a Mason, 
agreed that the fighting should be suspended while this ritual 
was performed. The battle stopped and a strange funeral cortege 
of Federals and Confederates was organized and proceeded to the 
cemetery. Then, after it was over, the boat was allowed to re- 
turn to the Albatross and the battle was resumed. Even now, it is 
said, relatives and descendants of the Confederate officer, Cap- 
tain Leake, keep the grave of the Yankee officer in perfect order. 

While in some parts of Louisiana the ground is solid enough to 
permit the digging of graves, in others, especially around New 
Orleans, water is so close to the surface that early French set- 
tlers referred to it as flottant' floating land. Until very re- 
cently, when modern drainage and engineering skill minimized 
this condition, practically all interments were in tombs or vaults 
of some sort, many being of magnificent proportions and designs, 
belonging to wealthy and prominent families. For the poor, 
crypts were erected, vaults built tier upon tier, usually into the 
cemetery wall, looking not unlike ovens in some gigantic bak- 
ery, and therefore becoming known locally as 'ovens.' 

Strangers are always amazed or amused at these queer 
vaults. The New Orleans Weekly Delta of July 19, 1847, carried an 
article containing a portion of a letter written home by an 
English tourist, who said: 

Frequently while in Louisiana I heard of men gouging out 
eyes and biting off ears and noses. I do know that they bake 
their dead in ovens as ive do our brown Johns for breakfast! 

Ovens may be bought or they may be rented. If the latter, it is 
usually for a year and a day, and if no further payment is forth- 
coming, the remains are removed and burned. A single oven 
may be used again and again, for most are provided with a de- 
pository at the bottom where the bones may be pushed to make 
way for the new coffin. The remnants of old caskets are burned. 

One New Orleans cemetery offers 'three-day burials,' which 
means you can rent the vault for three days, have a nice funeral 

5 2 z - * Gumbo Ya-Ya 

to impress your friends, and see the coffin placed in an oven. 
After three days all is removed. 

One of the oldest and most fascinating cemeteries in the State 
is Saint Louis Number i in New Orleans. Only one block square, 
enclosed by high brick walls, partially composed of ovens, if 
Gabriel blew that horn tomorrow many of the most famous 
characters of New Orleans's history would step out of the white- 
washed brick, granite and marble tombs and vaults. 

Entering the gate on Basin Street, the first sight is a pyramidal 
tomb bearing the notice 'St. Louis Cemetery No. i 172.0.' 
But that date does not seem to mean what it suggests. The old- 
est inscription to be found is dated 1800, though records at the 
Louisiana State Museum Library list a burial as early as 'Jeanne 
Durand, slave of Andre , aged 33 years, died May 17, 1772..' 

Little is known of burial in New Orleans during colonial days, 
as interments were beneath the earth and no slabs or monuments 
remain. Old documents reveal that during an auction sale of lots 
in Rampart Street, remains of some dead were removed from that 
area and transferred to the square now bounded by Bienville, 
Chartres, Conti and Royal Streets, and that in 1743 tne cemetery 
was removed to a site opposite the Charity Hospital of that day, 
in a square bounded by Toulouse, St. Peter, Burgundy and Ram- 
part Streets. In 1788 it was transferred once more, this time 
beyond the ramparts of the old city and one block south. Doctor 
Erasmus Fenner in his Southern Medical Reports, published in 1850, 
stated, ' In the earliest days of the city the cemetery was situated 
in rear of the Cathedral, near the Place d'Armes.' 

When Basin Street was cut through, the cemetery, now outside 
the original city, lost all the ground from Basin to Rampart 
Street. Bones dug up in that vicinity as late as 1900 seem to sup- 
port this fact, and the belief that the present day Saint Louis 
Number i is actually only a portion of the old burying ground. 
Coffins and bones discovered under Canal Street in 1903 were be- 
lieved to be the remains of early French and Spanish colonists. 

Saint Louis Number i is, as is not unusual in Louisiana, 
divided into Catholic and Protestant sections by a fence, though 
the Catholic portion is many times larger than the small space 
filled with deceased Protestants. In the latter section the most 


pretentious tomb is inscribed to the memory of Eliza W. Clai- 
borne, ' wife of W. C. C. Claiborne, Governor-General of Lou- 
isiana, who died at New Orleans on the xyth of September, 1804, 
in the twenty-first year of her life,' and of Cornelia Tennessee 
Claiborne, her only child, who died on the same day, aged three 
years. Also buried here is Micajah Green Lewis, 'brother of 
Eliza W. Claiborne, who fell in a duel Feb. 14, 1805, in the 
twenty-fifth year of his age.' It is said that Lewis, Claiborne 's 
secretary, died in defense of the Governor's honor. Just beyond 
the fence, in the Catholic section, stands another Claiborne 
tomb, this one inscribed, ' In memory of Clarice Duralde Clai- 
borne, youngest daughter of Martin Duralde of Attakapas, and 
wife of Wm. C. C. Claiborne, Governor of the Territory of Or- 
leans, who died at New Orleans on the X9th of November, 1809, 
in the twenty-first year of her age.' On both the tombs of Clai- 
borne's young wives, both dying at twenty-one, is the same epi- 
taph: 'For the virtuous there is a happier and better world.' 
Claiborne was buried in this second tomb, but was later moved 
to Metairie Cemetery. 

Only a few steps from the Basin Street entrance is the ' Widow 
Paris' tomb, a three-tiered, whitewashed structure with queer 
green flowerpots extending on both sides of each tier. On one 
slab may be read: 

nee Laveau 


decedee le n Juin 1897 

agee de soixante-deux ans 

Elle fut bonne mere, bonne amie et 

regrettee par tous ceux qui 1'ont connue 

Passants priez pour elle 

Here lie the remains of the Widow Paris, the 'first' Marie 
Laveau, mother of the ' second' voodoo queen bearing the same 
name, though the epitaph above is probably that of another of 
the Widow Paris 's daughters. 

Other interesting tombs include the curious low brick vault of 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Etienne de Bore, first mayor of New Orleans, and his grandson, 
Charles Gayarre, famed historian, and of Paul Morphy, the chess 
king. The tombs of Francois Xavier Martin, Claude Treme, 
Alexander Milne and Oscar Dunn the mulatto lieutenant- 
governor under Henry Clay Warmouth may also be found 
here, as well as those of members of the Marigny, Fortier and 
many other prominent New Orleans families of the Creole era. 
Such epitaphs as ' Morf sur le champ dhonneur^ 'Victims de son 
honneur, ' and ' Pour Carder intact le nom de jamille' mark the burying 
places of hot-headed and hot-blooded young Creoles who died 
for their 'honor' or for their family name. 

Saint Louis Number i is a close-packed city of the dead, with 
few trees or shrubs; there is even little grass to be found in the 
Catholic section. Tombs stand so close together that some- 
times it is necessary to squeeze between them in order to get to 
certain ones, and instead of being laid out in regular squares the 
place is a haphazard maze without plan or design. Almost all 
the tombs are white, either of stone or whitewashed bricks, and 
the effect, especially under a bright sun, is dazzling. Many of 
the bottom ovens are sunk into the earth, showing only an inch 
or two, with the inscriptions entirely or partially vanished from 
view; there is a possibility that in some places an entire 'story' 
may have been swallowed by the earth. Above, along the tops 
of the tombs, is cross after cross, sometimes of stone, often of 
iron, punctuated here and there by an occasional angel or the fig- 
ure of a lady drooping with grief. 

Tragedy of Shakespearean proportions once occurred in Saint 
Louis Number i, when a man entombed himself with the remains 
of his daughter. For a long period this father, suffering under 
pathological grief, would visit the tomb of his only daughter 
and unscrew the slab. Then he would gaze for hours at the 
crumbling casket. One day he entered the cemetery, crawled 
inside the tomb, fastened the slab as best he could from the 
inside, and swallowed a vial of laudanum. Late that evening his 
wife, searching for him, and knowing of his habit of spending 
hours in the cemetery, went there, noticed the slab not as usual, 
and found the body, already in its grave. 

Among the larger tombs are the Mausoleum of the Orleans 


Battalion Artillery and the Mausoleo de la Campania de Volun- 
taries, the latter bearing an 1848 date. The tomb of the Italian 
Mutual Benefit Society, a handsome structure, has been called 
the ' Hex Tomb,' because of the fact that those who planned and 
built it were the first to be buried therein. I. T. Barelli conceived 
the idea of the mausoleum and brought Piero Gualdi, a noted 
sculptor of the period, from Italy for the express purpose of de- 
signing the tomb. Gualdi was the first man to be buried there. 
Barelli was the second. 

Myra Clark Gaines is buried in the Catholic section of Saint 
Louis Number i, and Daniel Clark, American Consul to Louisi- 
ana during the Spanish possession, who she claimed was her 
father in the famous lawsuit. 

The Protestant portion is in bad order; grass -and weeds grow 
high. Many burial places have completely vanished, practically 
all the headstones lie flat, most are broken. One of the very few 
tombs displays what is apparently a discrepancy in dates, stating: 

to the memory of 

Miss Margaret H. 

daughter of 
Mr. Robert Layton 

Born May 15, 182.1 
Died November 14, 1812. 

Not overly scrupulous guides sometimes point out this tomb 
and unless carefully examined those appear to be the actual dates. 
But on close inspection the ' 1811* proves to be actually ' 1842.,' a 
portion of the 4 having become almost indistinguishable. 

Many of the names on the flat, broken headstones are of heroes 
of the War of i Six; others are of yellow-fever victims of the epi- 
demic of 1817-18. One reads: 

Sacred to the memory of William P. Cauly, midshipman of the 
U.S. Navy, born Norfolk, Va., Aug. 30, 1796, who fell in the 
unequal contest between the U.S. gunboat squadron and the 
British flotilla on Lake Borgne, near New Orleans, Dec. 14, 

126- GumBo Ya-Ya 


Erected to the memory of Oliver Parmlee, 

a native of New Orleans, who was killed 

in the defense of the city of New Orleans 

in the battle with the British army Dec. 2.3, 1814. 

The epitaph of a young officer who died of the fever reads 
(here and there a word cannot be deciphered): 

By his only remaining brother, William, of 
the United States Navy, this stone is placed, 
sacred to the memory of Capt. Robert Sinclair, 
who in the morning of his days and in the 
bloom of youth fell a victim to yellow fever 
at New Orleans, Aug. 2.4, 1818. 

Lamented youth, beneath this sculptured stone, 
The mortal ... of his fled spirit lies, 
To wait the call to see a happier home, 
Joined to its shade of glory in the skies. 

The high-rolling waves and the loud-rolling 
tempest I have left to the living, for here 
I am anchored in peace, awaiting the return 
of the ... eat Tide of Life. 

Most of the names in this section are decidedly Anglo-Saxon, 
in sharp contrast to the Creole ones in the Catholic portion, 
many of the young soldiers and fever victims having journeyed 
to New Orleans from New England. It is said today that many 
New Englanders visit New Orleans in attempts to trace members 
of the family tree of whose fate they have no records. 

Saint Louis Number 2., not so old and not quite so crowded, as 
it covers three city squares, possesses much the same atmosphere 
as Number i , and there are many of the same queer things to be 
seen . Here the ovens lining many of the walls are frequently in 
a dilapidated state, and the sexton claims have sunk two or three 
deep beneath the surface, though this is doubtful. A sign on the 
cemetery office gives information not only for this graveyard but 
for Number i and Number 3 as well. Badly printed and with the 
word 'funeral' misspelled, it reads: 


St. Louis Cemeteries 

No. i, 2., and 3 
Furnerals And Removals 

Babies up to one year $5.00 

Children up to five years .00 

Adults 8.00 

Overtime after 5 P.M. per hour i.oo 

F. X. Lefebore, Pastor 

Some of the ovens are adorned with small balconies of wrought 
iron, equipped with gates on hinges, sometimes with small iron 
shelters above, which look as though they might be waiting for 
ghostly Romeos and Juliets. Many slabs are broken or have van- 
ished; around the office, oven slabs, still bearing names, dates and 
epitaphs, have been used to form a walk to the tool shed, to the 
men's rest room, to the office entrance. 

Many ovens are empty and ferns and grass grow within. 
Others are choked with giant spiderwebs. On top of all grass 
grows and, in the spring, very pretty buttercups and other wild 
flowers. Some ovens have wooden 'balconies' instead of iron 
ones. Several have glass cases holding statues of the Virgin and 
Saint Joseph, as well as fresh or artificial flowers. Many have a 
crucifix before them, usually set in a stone block in which a single 
word such as 'Baby' or 'Mama' or 'Annie' is chiseled. 

Tombs are embellished with iron wreaths one has an iron 
'crown of thorns' lead lambs, crosses, crucifixes, conch shells 
- gilded, silvered or painted and stone images. One has a 
pair of beer glasses cemented to it, evidently to be used as flower 
receptables. Another has a flower-holder which is a long tin, 
marked 'Roth's Spiced Meats.' 

On many tombs are small bas-reliefs depicting graves with 
willow trees drooping over them, angels flying above head- 
stones, lonely graves on hilltops, backed by the setting sun, 
angels blowing trumpets, widows and children weeping beside a 
grave, and sheep 'going home.' 

In the rear of Saint Louis Number 2. is the ' Wishing Vault,' an 
oven distinguished from the others by literally hundreds of red 

328- Gumbo Ya-Ya 

cross marks made with brick, a small piece of which is al\vays 
resting on the shelf before the vault. Of course it is said that 
Beautiful Young Ladies steal into the cemetery, make a wish and 
add their cross mark to the collection, dropping money through 
a crack in the slab. But at present there is no crack in the slab. 
Many Negroes believe that the 'second' Marie Laveau is buried 
here, though others deny this, saying she is buried in the 
' Widow Paris' tomb in Saint Louis Number i, or in Saint Louis 
Number 3, in Saint Vincent de Paul Cemetery, in St. Roch's 
Cemetery, in Girod Street Cemetery, etc., etc. Practically every 
New Orleans graveyard except the Hebrew's Rest has claimed 
her. From other sources comes the information that the ' Wish- 
ing Vault' holds the remains of Marie Contesse, a voodoo priest- 
ess of an earlier date than the Laveaus. However, at least one 
other 'authority,' an employee -in the cemetery, stated: 'Thar 
oven don't contain nothing but some old bones. Nobody knows 
who they belonged to; maybe they was yellow-fever victims. 
I don't know how all this "Wishing Vault " thing started. It's 
true, though, that people come here and make wishes. I seen lots 
of 'em. Some of 'em white, some of 'em colored.' 

As in Saint Louis Number i there are many handsome tombs, 
some being encircled with iron fences and having iron benches in 
front. One particularly fine tomb is that of Amable Charbonnet. 
'Born December 10, 1790 Died November 4, 1832..' It is an 
exquisite example of marblework, there being a floral design, 
delicately chiseled, a child's head at each corner, and a Masonic 
emblem at the top front center, all hand carved. The craftsman's 
signature is chiseled into the base: 




Though imported from Paris more than a century ago, the 
tomb is nearly as perfect as the day it was built, while others 
around it, erected much later, are 'already crumbling. 

The tomb of Dominique You, Lafitte's lieutenant, is in Saint 
Louis Number 2., and is a low structure bearing a Masonic em- 
blem and the epitaph: 

Cemeteries 329 

Intrepide guerrier sur la terre et 

sur Vonde 
II sut dans cent combats signaler 

sa valeur 
Et ce noveau Bavara sans reproche 

et sans peur 
Aurait pu sans trembler voir s'ecrouler 

le monde. 

Saint Louis Number 2. was built in 182.2., and Saint Louis Num- 
ber 3, last of the trio of New Orleans graveyards bearing that 
name, was established about 1833. This one is similar to the 
others, though it covers more ground and contains more graves 
and more trees and shrubbery. Saint Louis Number 3 was built 
on the site of what was once known as Lepers' Land, because 
Galvez (1777-1785) banished the city's lepers to that neighbor- 
hood and his successor, Governor Miro, built a house for them 
there. At first Saint Louis Number 3 was known as the Bayou 

Senor Pepe Lulla sleeps in his own Saint Vincent de Paul Cem- 
etery, though many wonder how peaceful is his slumber. When 
it was known as the Louisa Street Cemetery, Pepe Lulla owned 
all the ground for a time, and rumor has it that the Senor helped 
to fill the graves. The most skilled duelist of his day, there are 
so many stories concerning Pepe's artistry with swords and pis- 
tols that undoubtedly many of them are romantic fables. It is 
said he mastered every weapon, was the South's greatest expert 
with the saber, was invulnerable when armed with the rapier or 
small sword. He could balance an egg on his small son's head 
and crack the shell at thirty paces with a bullet. He could hit a 
coin tossed into the air twenty-five times in succession without 
missing once, using a rifle. He was a positive genius with a 
bowie knife. If he didn't fill a graveyard singlehanded, says the 
legend, he at least furnished one with a beginning to be proud of, 
and one of his less serious diversions was to wander the aisles of 
his cemetery and knock the pipes from between the teeth of 
Negro workmen with rifle shots. Only occasionally, however, 
did he ever receive a new client for his cemetery in this particular 
fashion; he was too capable a marksman. 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Now he lies in Saint Vincent de Paul himself, in a modest 
tomb, simply inscribed: 

Joseph Lulla, Sr. 

Native of Mahon, Spain 

Died March 6, 1888 

Aged 73 years. 

Saint Vincent de Paul (Louisa Street) Cemetery was, however, 
built by a priest in 1831 and acquired by Senor Lulla about two 
years before the War Between the States. In general it is much 
in the tradition of the Saint Louis cemeteries. There are ovens 
in many of the walls, tombs, often of fine design, and few ground 

Cards reading as follows may be seen on many of the ovens : 


Anyone interested in the remains of person 
or persons interred in this vault 


This indicates that the rent is unpaid and that the remains are 
about to be removed. A charred pile of coffin handles and other 
refuse in one portion of the grounds shows that remains have been 

Epitaphs offer some variety. Occasionally a word is mis- 
spelled : 


Jake Hendrick 

George Ticker 

A headstone of a plot expressed appreciation for the departed : 

to the memory of 

Margaret Keym 

1 6th Sept. 1816 
3oth Oct. 1850 

This stone was erected by her husband 
that knew her worth. 

Cemeteries 5^7 

The following, on an oven slab, is mystifying because of the 
additional notation. 

LquiseJ. Stuart 

wife of 

Claude J. Barrilleaux 
Died Sept. 19, 1934 

Beneath, in pencil, is: 'C. J. COME SEE F. G.,' as if someone 
had used this means of communicating with the husband of the 

Saint Vincent de Paul's is famed as the last resting place of a 
noted gypsy queen. On November 9, 1916, word spread through 
lower New Orleans that an unusual funeral procession was in 
progress. Men, women and children lined the streets near the 
graveyard to watch the long line of carriages and the mourners 
marching on foot, all garbed in their vivid gypsy costumes, 
munching grapes as they walked and drinking wine from huge 
cups. Marie, daughter of Bosche, King of the Tinker Gypsies, 
was being borne to her grave. 

The body was placed in a large, specially constructed tomb, 
and after it was sealed all members of the tribe made indentations 
in the soft cement with coins of many nations. The ceremony 
proceeded with dances and singing by many of the gypsies. 
Finally each man and woman of the tribe approached the tomb 
and sprinkled wine over it, then drank the remainder from his or 
her bottle. After this, all departed silently. 

But the next day they returned, spread long tables before the 
tomb and held a feast. After masons had applied a second coat 
of cement, certain members of the tribe, apparently 'royalty,' 
made impressions in the new cement with their rings. After the 
marble slab was set in place, grapes were thrown against the 
tomb. Then, after lighting a candle in a black receptacle on the 
tomb, the tribe departed. 

Every time a Tinker Gypsy comes to New Orleans his presence 
may be noted by a candle burning on the grave, and frequently 
grapes are seen about the tomb. In 1937 a man came to the sexton 
and demanded that the marble slab be removed. This was done, 
and as soon as the stranger saw the impressions of the rings be- 
neath, he asked that the slab be replaced, apparently satisfied 

$ $2 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

that the royal remains had not been disturbed. He then drew 
wine and grapes from his pocket and performed the usual rites, 
lighted a fresh candle. Then he made. a queer request. Would the 
sexton do this for him each year? Each year two bottles of wine 
and some grapes would be sent, and the extra bottle of wine 
would be in small payment for the trouble. In the event of his 
own death, the sexton was to pass on the custom to someone else. 

'Come on down next year and watch me play Tinker Gypsy,' 
the sexton invited. 'Every year on November 9th the grapes 
and wine arrive and I've always done as I promised. You see, 
before the stranger left, he told me quietly, ' ' I have come over 
ten thousand miles just for this. Marie, Queen of the Tinker 
Gypsies, was my mother!" 

There have been reports of ' whizzing noises' from within some 
of the vaults, but the sexton says it is his belief that the ' whiz- 
zing noises' are only bats which sometimes get inside the tombs. 
When there was an arch over one of the gates, visitors com- 
plained of being followed by an unseen presence . They could dis- 
tinctly hear footsteps, but there was never anyone in sight. 
Finally the arch was destroyed. The sexton says that this was 
caused by the echo of the walker's own footsteps and was an 
acoustical rather than a psychic phenomenon. 

Then there is the story of the woman who used to visit the 
cemetery every evening, light a candle before a vault and kneel 
to pray. This would, in itself, have caused no excitement, as it is 
a common sight in New Orleans graveyards. The strange thing 
was that the flame of the candle never flickered, never went out 
until it burned down to a black smudge. Rain, wind and storm 
had no effect upon it. Much speculation began as to the identity 
of the woman. Was she a witch? A saint? Every description 
conceivable was broadcast; she was white and beautiful; she was 
young; she was old; she was an octoroon, a lovely pale tan 
creature who came to pray at the tomb of her white lover; she 
was a wrinkled hag as black as jet; she was Creole; she was for- 
eign; she was a voodoo priestess. No one ever decided, though 
hundreds must have seen her. Only one thing is certain: for over 
a month she came and lighted her candles and knelt in prayer, 
and the defiant candles defied all natural law and burned through 


wind and rain. Then she vanished as quietly as she had come. 

Saint Roch's Campo Santo is one of the most unusual cemeteries 
in New Orleans. Surrounded by high brick walls, in which are 
the usual ovens, there are chapel-like niches in the four corners 
and at the middle of each wall, forming a Way of the Cross, all 
marked with wooden stations and serving as small shrines. 
Saint Roch's, strangely, has the appearance of being of great age, 
though it is not nearly so old as it appears. 

In the center aisle is a huge cross, holding a life-sized figure of 
Christ; before it is a sundial and a reclining image of a child. 
There is a strange belief that the child is not really a statue, but 
the petrified body of the first child buried in the cemetery. The 
toes are missing from one foot, and many persons stoop and feel 
the broken place, mistaking the porous appearance of the inte- 
rior of the statue for petrified human flesh. But there is no truth 
to the story. Cemetery officials have positive proof that the 
statue was imported from Italy, and is a statue. 

But it is Saint Roch's Chapel that attracts most visitors. 
Though the slender Gothic building is only a little more than 
sixty years old, it has the appearance of a medieval structure. 
Inside, replicas of human limbs and organs hanging against one 
wall testify to the cures attributed to prayers offered to Saint 
Roch. Beneath are stacked crutches, braces and artificial limbs. 
On a wall opposite are scores of little marble plaques, square, 
circular and heart-shaped, each bearing one word: 'Thanks.' 
The shrine is famous for 'healing.' 

The chapel contains but seven pews, five on one side, two on 
the other. On the altar is a statue of Saint Roch with his dog; 
beneath, in a glass-fronted tomb, a life-sized image of Christ 
removed from the cross. 

Besides his efficacy in rendering 'cures,' Saint Roch is popular 
with New Orleans girls, who go to the chapel to pray for hus- 
bands, despite the belief that ' Saint Roch will give you what 
you want, but he always takes something else away.' Saint 
Roch is thought to be one of the eccentric saints like Saint An- 
thony, whom some New Orleans folks say must always be ad- 
dressed roughly, with a threat such as, 'Look here, Saint An- 
thony, you'd better grant my wish or I'll kick you in the pants/ 

3$4 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Other people turn the saint's statue with its face to the wall and 
they say he obeys their wish in a hurry. 

At the foot of the altar within the shrine is buried Father Peter 
Leonard Thevis, who alone and with his own hands built the 
chapel. The inscription in German states that Father 
Thevis was born February 7, 1837, and died August SLI, 1895. 
Two other priests are also buried beneath the marble floor one, 
Reverend F. X. Couppens of Saint Theresa's Church, who died in 
1897; the other, Reverend J. D. Thevis, former assistant pastor 
at Holy Trinity Church. 

In Saint Roch Number i, just behind Number i, the Mauso- 
leum of Michael the Archangel still stands, looking even more 
ancient than does the Saint Roch Chapel, though it was erected 
in 1891. There is little else in this square. Three of the walls 
contain ovens, but many of these are empty or in a disreputable 
state. There are few graves, even fewer tombs. 

The mausoleum looks like something left over from an air 
raid. The Gothic building is flanked by medieval towers, one 
containing the former belfry. Beneath and in all the walls are 
crypts which were formerly occupied by deceased priests and 
nuns, but are now empty with a sole exception, this one bearing 
a comparatively new marble slab and a name. Old and rain- 
beaten notices on all sides of the ruins warn that all remains must 
be removed by November i, 1931, and apparently this order was 
thoroughly obeyed. Ferns, goldenrod and Virginia creeper grow 
abundantly on the roof and wave from the yawning crypts. All 
the once handsome stained-glass windows are smashed and most 
of the murals, executed by Carmelite monks formerly at 
Carmel, Louisiana are defaced, though a few are in remark- 
ably good condition. Once statues of saints occupied pilasters 
on all sides of the exterior of the structure, but all are gone now 
except one which has no head. There has been much discussion 
regarding whether the mausoleum should be demolished or 
restored. Once some of the crypts were rented out at ten dollars 
a month and many were let to Chinese, and the sexton remembers 
seeing fruit and other foods left outside the slabs. 

In 1937 a ghost came out of a tomb in Saint Roch Cemetery 
Number 2. and sat on a grave. She did this every night for weeks. 


Louis Haley, the sexton, said he saw her every night and that 
she was positively a spook; he approached her several times and 
she always faded right back into her tomb and was nowhere to 
be seen about. As soon as the story broke in the newspapers, 
thousands of people crowded about the walls determined to see a 
real spirit for once in their lives. Gradually the story died a 
natural death when it was discovered that the ghost-woman was 
only a peculiar shadow caused by the combination of a white urn 
and two trees. This sad fact was revealed by the New Orleans 
Tribune on July 10, 1937. 

The oldest Protestant cemetery in New Orleans is the Girod 
Cemetery. This is, without a doubt, the weariest graveyard in 
the world. The whole place seems to sigh perpetually; even the 
fig trees which grow within the grounds sag with hopeless 
acquiescence to time and neglect. Grass and weeds are knee- 
high, and grow abundantly on tombs and graves and in the 
walks. Thick wistaria vines twist and coil grotesquely about 
ovens, as if to squeeze out the bones of the buried. And in many 
places skulls and bones are bleaching under the sun in dismal 
symbolization of decay and dissolution. Poe might have found 
inspiration in this morbid and macabre scene. A family of black 
cats add their bit to the sinister atmosphere, following visitors 
and purring and rubbing at their ankles, or sleeping lazily in the 
sun amid a miscellaneous collection of skulls and femurs. 

Yet the tombs and vaults in Girod Cemetery possess epitaphs 
that are rich with sentiment. Among them is one revealing a 
great love. J. W. Cal dwell, a prominent citizen of the early 
nineteenth century, fell madly in love with Jane Placide, an ac- 
tress at the old Saint Charles Theatre in New Orleans. Unable to 
marry, because his wife refused him a divorce, their clandestine 
affair was the scandal of the day. And when the beautiful ac- 
tress died in 1835, Caldwell chose lines from the poetry of Barry 
Cornwall as an epitaph, which, even more than a century later, 
proclaims the depth and fervor of their passion : 

There's not an hour 
of day or dreaming night but I am 

with thee; 
There's not a breeze but whispers 

of thy name, 

j? 3 6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

And not a flower that sleeps 

beneath the moon 
But in its fragrance tells a tale 

of thee. 

Another tomb is that of John David Fink, who left money for 
an asylum for Protestant widows, a refuge which does not ac- 
cept spinsters. Once John David Fink had loved a girl who ridi- 
culed his devotion and told him she would rather be an old maid 
than his wife, and work out her own destiny. His will, be- 
queathing the funds for the Fink Home in New Orleans, con- 
tained a clause forbidding that any unmarried woman ever be 
admitted. 'Let every old maid work out her destiny,' said the 
document with grim irony. 

One of the most interesting epitaphs in Girod Cemetery is the 
briefest; it says, 'After a Painless Death he passed to Paradise.' 
Another reads: 

William Lewis 
April 1 6th, 1870 

Also Gone to the Golden City 

Mary E. Lewis 
May 10, 1882. 

And from a wife to her husband: 

Robert E. Conway 
Died May 8, 1875, a e d 61 

Dearest, forgive the thought that would wish thee here. 

On an oven wherein lie the remains of a young Englishman is 
this rather pathetic inscription : 

to the memory of 


born in the county 

of Cumberland, England 

who died 2.6, Sept. 1841 

aged 2.9 years. 


By foreign hands his dying eyes were closed, 
By foreign hands his manly limbs composed, 
By foreign hands his humble grave adorned, 
By strangers honored, and by strangers mourned. 

The Girod Cemetery was at one time troubled with ghoulish 
thieves, who stole iron and brass from the tombs, and carried off 
flowers and shrubs. Both sexes seem to have been suspected, for 
the Crescent City Weekly ', May i, 1841, reprimanded them in this 
fashion : 

Lady, forsooth! A lady, Mr. Editor, is a being so refined in 
her feelings, that she would shun the possibility of inflicting 
pain on anyone, much less would she commit a moral wrong. 
... A lady would intuitively shrink from such an act as this. 
As to the male of the species, all that need be said of him is 
that a man who will steal in a graveyard cannot have the 
slightest pretensions to the character of a gentleman. 

Girod Cemetery reflects in a small way what all New Orleans 
graveyards once were. In early days burials were all in the 
ground and were terrifying affairs. Caskets were lowered into 
gurgling pools of water and were sunk into pits of oozing 
mud. As often as not, the coffin would capsize as the water 
seeped within. Heavy rains or a storm would cast newly buried, 
half-decomposed cadavers to the surface. A correspondent for 
the Courier of June n, 1833, described a walk in the Catholic 
Burial Ground in this way: 

The horrid image of this place is still in my mind. I cannot 
drive it from my imagination. The tombs are all above 
ground, and those who can afford it will never be buried under- 

This graveyard is all on a dead level and on rainy days in- 
undated with water. It is a morass, a swamp partly rescued 
from its wilderness. I followed the procession to the grave. 
The coffin was taken from the hearse. 

I now watched the process of interment The body was 

that of a colored person who had died of cholera (which is an 
epidemic now). They tarried to see the last of their friend. 

The grave was not over two feet and a half deep, I measured 
it for curiosity. The bottom was soft mud into which could be 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

thrust a stick to almost any depth. The water was within a 
foot of the top of the grave. The clods of earth around all 
clay, such as earth as would be dug from a bog. The coffin was 
put into the grave and it floated so as to be level with the sur- 

A negro, a fiend-looking brute, with his pantaloons above 
his knees, all covered with clay in which he had been work- 
ing, without hat, without coat or a whole shirt but with a 
hoe and a spade, mounted the top of the coffin, and tramped it 
under the water, and then a brother-looking being threw the 
clods on. ... 

I then looked around among the graves. A hole here and 
holes there were all ready for the next comers some six feet 
or more long, some three or four feet long. The water was in 
all the graves. The ground beneath our feet was like that of a 
swamp the surface of which the sun had encrusted. I tumbled 
over broken coffins, pieces of which were piled in little heaps, 
and pieces of which were placed as stakes to mark the spot of 
the last buried. 

The very earth gave way under my feet. The vegetation 
was that of a swamp. The rank weeds flourished roughly over 
many a dead body. Old sticks, old poles, such as our garden- 
ers stick peas with, while sides of coffins were put up as grave 
stands. What a spectacle! ... I hurried away, sickening from 
the spectacle. For from the earth pestilence seemed to be issu- 
ing. In many places the odours were insufferable. . . ." l 

I went to the Protestant, the American burying ground, but 
not any were as neat as I saw in the French graveyard. . .. 

The Americans here would not tolerate it, if they made this 
their abiding place and not the place to alight and make money 

in. But no man calculates on dying here I had heard much 

of the trenches or pits in which the cholera victims were bur- 
ied. Language cannot, if it were proper to array words in the 
description, portray the facts as they happened at that alarm- 
ing season. A friend tells me the worst accounts, but half 
realized the terror of those times. He saw a few bodies with- 
out coffins piled in masses around these pits. The dray-men 
raced off, full gallop to the yard, so brisk was their business, 
and then chuckled at their profits. 

Two of these pits were filled with victims; and dirt was 
thrown over them. The earth was moist an'd with a stick I 


sounded the ditches. My stick was pushed down with ease. 
I know not how far it would have driven. The exhalations 
from these ditches were unsufferable. I turned from it to catch 
a breath of less contaminated air. . . . 

I lost only a breakfast from this stride among the tombs, 
gratifying a curiosity which is now quite satiated! 

Of course the cholera and yellow-fever epidemics added much 
to the horror, and the death rate in New Orleans was appalling. 
The New Orleans City Guide shows that the rate per thousand from 
1800 to 1880 was scandalous, that the lowest was 40.2.2. from 
1860 to 1870, while the highest was 63.55 ^ rom 1830" to 1840. 

During the great yellow-fever epidemic of 1853 there was even 
a serious shortage of gravediggers and men were offered five dol- 
lars an hour to perform this task. The streets of New Orleans 
rumbled with cart wheels, whose drivers stopped before houses 
with the grim invitation, 'Bring out your dead!' And by the 
light of flaring torches, shallow graves were dug and the bodies 
hurriedly covered. When the rains came, it was not unusual for 
these decaying bodies to be washed up. The New Orleans Bee, 
August 9, 1853, complained: 

Upon inquiry yesterday we ascertained that the festering 
and decaying bodies which had been deposited in the Lafayette 
Cemetery, had at last been consigned to mother earth. The 
eyes will no longer be pained and the nostrils offended by the 
further continuance of the horrible neglect. The Mayor of 
our City, though absolutely destitute of all direct authority, 
upon learning the facts on Sunday, secured the labor of the 
chain gang, and set them immediately to work. After many 
hours of incessant labor, the task was completed yesterday. 

A more disgraceful administration of our municipal affairs 
have never been witnessed. It is unworthy of a civilized peo- 

In his General Butler in New Orleans, James Parton stated: 

It is not generally known at the North, that in the worst 
years, the mortality from yellow fever in New Orleans exceeds 
that from any epidemic that has raged in a civilized commu- 
nity. It is worse than the modern cholera, worse than the 
small-pox before inoculation, worse than the ancient plague. 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

A competent and trustworthy visitor gives the facts of the 
yellow fever season of 1853, the most fatal year ever known: 

'Commencing on the ist of August, with one hundred and 
six deaths by yellow fever, one hundred and forty-two by all 
diseases, the number increased daily, until for the first week, 
ending on the yth, they amounted to nine hundred and nine 
deaths by yellow fever, one thousand one hundred and eighty- 
six of all diseases. The next week showed a continued increase 
to one thousand five hundred and twenty-six of all diseases. 
This was believed to be the maximum. There had been noth- 
ing like it in the history of any previous epidemics, and no 
one believed it could be exceeded. But the next week gave a 
mournful refutation of these predictions and calculations; for 
that ever memorable week, the total deaths were one thousand 
five hundred and seventy-six, of yellow fever one thousand 
three hundred and forty-six. But the next week commenced 
more gloomily still. The deaths on the 2.2.d of August were 
two hundred and eighty-three of all diseases, two hundred 
and thirty-nine of yellow fever. From this it began slowly to 

. . . Funeral processions crowded every street. No vehicles 
could be seen except doctors' cabs and coaches, passing to and 
from the cemeteries, and hearses, often solitary, taking their 
way toward those gloomy destinations. The hum of trade 
was silent. The levee was a desert. The streets, wont to shine 
with fashion and beauty, were silent. The tombs the 
homes of the dead were the only places where there was 
life, where crowds assembled, where the incessant rumbling 
of carriages, the trampling of feet, the murmur of voices, and 
all the signs of active, stirring life could be heard and seen. 

' To realize the fierce horror and virulence of the pestilence, 
you must go into the crowded localities of the laboring classes, 
into the miserable shanties which are the disgrace of the city, 
where the poor immigrant class cluster together in filth, sleep- 
ing a half-dozen in one room, without ventilation, and having 
access to filthy wet yards, which have never been filled up, and 
when it rains are converted into green puddles fit abodes 
for frogs and sources of poisonous malaria. Here you will find 
scenes of woe, misery and death, which will haunt your mem- 
ory for all time to come. Here you will see the dead and the 
dying, the sick and the convalescent, in one and the same bed. 

Cemeteries 341 

Here you will see the living babe sucking death from the yel- 
low breast of his dead mother. Here father, mother, and chil- 
dren die in one another's arms. Here you will find whole fami- 
lies swept off in a few hours, so that none are left to mourn or 
procure the rites of burial. Offensive odors frequently drew 
neighbors to such awful spectacles. Corpses would thus pro- 
claim their existence, and enforce the observances due them. 
What a terrible disease ! . . . 

As many as three hundred persons a day were buried during the 
1853 epidemic, an accomplishment that was almost impossible. 
Sometimes caskets were simply borne to the graveyards, stacked 
up, and left waiting their turn. Conditions arising from this 
necessitated extreme measures. One day the Louisiana Spectator 
notified citizens: 

Residents will be glad to know that the spreading of lime 
and the constant burning of tar has removed all traces of odor 
so concentrated during the last few days. 

On March 2.3, 1835, a funeral road was established in New 
Orleans, according to the 1835 Scrapbook at the Howard-Tilton 
Library, when an ordinance was passed to contract with a 
J. Arrows mi th for a railroad from St. Claude Street toward 
Bayou St. John, its purpose being to convey funeral parties to the 
cemeteries. There were detailed terms as to the number of 
corpses to be carried each trip, separate cars being provided for 
Whites and for slaves. Branch lines were to run into all the 
cemeteries. Apparently, however, the project amounted to little. 

As late as May 2.9, 1875, tne New Orleans Bulletin contained a 
dreadful accusation against conditions in the Pauper's or Locust 
Grove Cemetery, located in Sixth Street between Freret and 
Locust Streets: 

... In our other cemeteries, friends and relations in the 
pangs of bereavement rear, above loved ones, and their last 
homes, mausoleums of regret which in a great measure, serve 
to mask the terror of the dark angel, but here death was visi- 
ble everywhere. Visible in the latch you raised to enter the 
yard, made from an old coffin, visible in the stained and 
mouldy winding sheet, rotting in the laughing clover beside 
the walk. On the left of the central path, it was evident that 

$ 4 2 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

friends had cared for many of the graves, but on the right the 
picture was a sad one indeed. Here in a pile some five feet in 
height were some fifty babies untenanted. After the weary 
little bodies had wasted away, they were heaped carelessly 
together like so much old lumber, one upon the other, and the 
sacrilegious flies seemed to be feasting upon the sickening odor 
hanging over them. Scattered about lay coffins of all sizes, 
and the reporter turning over one remarkable for its length, 
was almost stifled by the stench, to the effects of which was 
added that a case of small pox had been taken out of it. Coffin 
lids were used in many places to mend the fences, and so many 
were the uses they were put to, the whole place breathed of 
destruction and pestilence. 

Charity Hospital in New Orleans once had a wagon to carry 
the dead to the Pauper's Field, and on at least one occasion a 
driver seems to have done more than his duty. The New Orleans 
Bulletin of May 2.9, 1875, re l ate d the story under the following 
'shocker' headlines: 




The story accused the driver of killing the 'dead' man as the 
latter attempted to get out of his coffin. A witness (C. H. Beggs) 
testified that he saw the incident, stating, according to the news- 
paper: 'The driver lifted out a coffin and was about to deposit it 
in the hole prepared for it, when the occupant of the coffin kicked 
off the lid and cried, "For God's sake, do not bury me alive!" 
The driver picked up a brick, and crying, ' ' You , I have 

a doctor's certificate that you are dead, and I'm going to bury 
you." He then struck the man, and stunning him or killing him, 
proceeded with the burial.' The Bulletin remarked that 'The 
police took the matter very coolly and did not seem to think it 
worth working up.' It then announced that a reporter was as- 





'Skeletons," a painting by Edward Schoenberger, was inspired by the New Orleans cemeteries 

Louisiana Art Project 

The Devil in a Cemetery, from a painting by John McCrady 
Louisiana Art Project 

The Mausoleum of Michael the Archangel. Abandoned Gothic chapel in the Campo 
Santo adjoining St. Roch's Cemetery. Note the empty tombs in the walls 

Old tomb, Girod Cemetery 

Chanty Hospital Cemetery, the Potter's Field 





Prices posted for cemetery burial and removal, St. Louis Cemeteries 

Cemeteries 34$ 

signed to the case, who was determined to get to the bottom of 
the affair. 

Various witnesses made statements, scarcely two alike. Me- 
linda Smith testified: 'I was close to the wagon. I saw that man 
move his hand. The driver took a cushion off the seat, put it 
over the man's face and sat on him until he was smothered. 
Then he took a hammer and nailed down the lid. ' Mary Thomp- 
son said: 'I saw a man in that coffin. He was alive. The driver 
picked up a baby's coffin that was also in the wagon and put it 
on top of him, and sat on it. ' Rosa Johnson said : ' I saw the arms 
of the man raised. I know he was alive. The driver put a pillow 
over his head and smothered him.' William Harrison said: 'I 
looked into the coffin. The man was breathing and the driver 
had dropped a big cobblestone on his chest.' Mrs. Louise Weber 
said: 'The gravedigger told me the driver was a funny kind of 
man and he did it all as a joke.' 

It was discovered that the deceased was one George Banks, a 
colored youth of nineteen, who had entered Charity Hospital as 
a smallpox victim. Authorities there identified the driver as one 
Jim Connors, saying that ' Naturally Jim's work is suitable to his 
nature. You can't expect him to be very goodhearted or tender. 
But he wouldn't commit murder.' Schwartz, sexton of the 
Pauper's Field, swore: 'The man was dead. I buried him. The 
coffin had fallen to pieces from the jolting of the wagon over the 
cobblestone streets. I've known Jim a long time. ' Nowhere is it 
mentioned what Jim Connors had to say. However, he was actu- 
ally arrested and held, according to the Bulletin. That seems to 
have been the end of it. There is no further mention of the case. 
Evidently it was never satisfactorily concluded. 

Even in days made dark by epidemics and death, Orleanians 
retained their sense of 'humor. On August 30, 1840, the Daily 
Picayune said: 

It is necessary again to inform the public that we never in- 
sert marriage or obituary notices unless when fully authorized, 
either by personal knowledge or known endorsement. Vicious 
persons would have it in their power to create great mischief if 
this rule were not enforced. An obituary notice came to this 
office yesterday unauthenticated, and consequently it does not 

$44 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Years later, on September 13, 1876, the New Orleans Times told 
of fun in jail: 

Directly a new man beams upon the prison yard he is sadly 
informed that a fellow-being having just departed from life, 
the funeral ceremonies will be straightway inaugurated, and 
of course participation is expected. Then joining in a proces- 
sion which soon forms, he moves to a secluded portion of the 
yard, where robed in the habiliments of the dead, looking for 
all the world like a dead man, with lighted candles placed at 
head and feet, lies a negro the supposed late lamented. 

In accordance with the traditional observance of such occa- 
sions, each member of the procession, as he passes, stoops to 
imprint a last loving kiss upon the brow of the deceased Sene- 
gambian, and so in turn the stranger seeks also the kiss, when 
behold, the corpse, heretofore well behaved, awakens to sud- 
den animation and grasping the stranger about the neck holds 
firmly in a grip of iron, while the balance of the negroes, al- 
ready provided with sticks, proceed to belabor that stranger 
until he howls much after the fashion of the festive dervish 
and when his tormentors have sufficiently enjoyed his misery, 
they let up and proceed to console him with the information 
that thereafter he will be one of the boys, and that moreover 
he may have the first whack at the next candidate for the 

In Lafayette Cemetery Number i (perhaps better known as 
Washington Cemetery, because of its location on Washington 
Avenue) is the tomb of Henry Wat kins Allen, governor of Lou- 
isiana during the War Between the States. His epitaph is 
slightly baffling with its four lines of confused rhetoric. The 
chiseled words announce dramatically: 

Your friends will be proud to know that Louisiana had 
a governor who, with an opportunity of securing millions 
in gold, preferred being honest in a strange land without 
a cent. 

Cypress Grove Cemetery (also known as Firemen's Cemetery 
because of the mausoleum there for firefighters of another era) 
contains a burial place wherein many Chinese of the city are 
temporarily entombed, to await the passing of a year and a day, 


when they may be shipped home to Cathay, though the appar- 
ently endless wars have prevented these shipments during the 
past few years. Large Chinese characters are inscribed above 
this mausoleum's entrance, and figures in the same language are 
scribbled in pencil on many of the vaults within, though often 
the name and date of death are also written in English. Many 
slabs are cracked and broken and coffins and remains are at times 
partially exposed. One slab has a window in its center. Pieces 
of burnt joss sticks litter the floor and the twin fireplaces at one 
end, the latter for the purpose of heating for cold-weather 
funerals. The entire place is in a disreputable state. 

'The gravediggers of Carrollton and Saint Mary Cemeteries 
are on strike for back pay.' Thus read signs carried by pickets 
who stalked up and down before the Carrollton and Saint Mary 
Cemeteries one day. Behind the radicals marched a diminutive, 
grinning colored boy, beating a large tin pan with a stick to at- 
tract attention. According to these pickets the sexton owed 
them eighty dollars' back pay, and there was no reason why 
they could not go on strike as everybody else was doing these 
days. So was the labor movement carried to the grave. 

Carrollton Cemetery enjoyed a mild sensation in 1933 when the 
corpse described in the following paragraph, from the New Or- 
leans States, May 7, 1933, was discovered: 

The body of a man, apparently petrified, is still attracting 
persons to the old Catholic cemetery in Carrollton, some of 
them having come from St. Bernard Parish. Apparently the 
tomb was broken open by vandals. The iron casket is exposed 
and, by turning the iron cover over the small round glass win- 
dow set in the coffin top, one can get a good view of the man. 
The inscription on the tomb shows that he died in 1879. He 
has red hair, but is bald on top. He has a mustache. His eyes, 
which are blue, are open, and his mouth is open. He wore a 
turned-down collar of the period. 

Carrollton Cemetery has a decidedly German atmosphere, 
names such as Weber, SchaefFer, Muller and Francken appearing 
on many slabs and headstones. To the rear is the Negro section, 
which is in a dismal, weed-infested state. Here one may read 
such epitaphs as ' Alcida Lewis, faithful servant of The Family 
J. A. Legendre.' 

$ 4 $ ~ Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Near Cyprus Grove, already mentioned, at the end of Canal 
Street, is a cluster of cemeteries, including Saint John's, Green- 
wood, Saint Patrick Number i and Saint Patrick Number 2.. In 
contrast to the older graveyards these are in general in good or- 
der and well kept, with the exception of the Saint Patricks, 
which are usually in a deplorable condition. Here weeds and 
grass grow knee-high, except at All Saints' time, when there is 
an annual cleaning and painting program. Irishmen used to be 
interred free of charge in these graveyards named for their patron 
saint, but this has long been discontinued. Saint John's Ceme- 
tery is the home of Hope Mausoleum, a handsome marble build- 
ing of generous dimensions and tasteful architecture, the first 
of its kind built in the South. Still expanding, when completed 
Hope Mausoleum will be one of the most beautiful of such burial 
places in the country. 

Metairie Cemetery, almost around the corner from these 
others, is in even sharper contrast to the old graveyards. Of im- 
mense acreage and holding tombs of great cost and elaborate- 
ness, besides being impressively landscaped, it has become a 
showplace for visitors to New Orleans. Originally a racetrack, 
the tremendous grounds were converted to their present use by 
Charles T. Howard, president of both the New Orleans Racing 
Association and the Louisiana State Lottery Company at that 
time. The racecourse became the main drive, other fine roads 
were laid, artificial lagoons dug, trees, flowers and shrubs 
planted, the result being the creation of a lovely park fit to hold 
the elegant tombs of the wealthy people of the city. 

The Daily Picayune reported on June 6, 1872.: 

The task of converting the Metairie Race Course into a 
cemetery, which will compare favorably with any in the 
country, is receiving the attention of those gentlemen who 
conceived the plan. The organization of the Metairie Ceme- 
tery Company was perfected at a meeting held on May 14, 
1871, when the officers were elected: W. S. Pike, President and 
W. C. Lipscombe, Secretary. 

At the entrance .stands the Moriarity Monument, a tall shaft 
embellished by four life-sized female statues. It is said that 

Cemeteries $47 

Daniel Moriarity ordered a sculptor to do a group of 'Four 
Graces' for his wife's monument and when informed there were 
but Three Graces Hope, Faith and Charity he insisted that 
there be Four Graces on the monument anyway. So, the sculptor 
obliged, and there they are Four Graces. 

A statue of Stonewall Jackson dominates the marble shaft of 
the monument to the Army of Virginia, and Albert Sidney John- 
son rides his bronze horse atop the mound covering dead heroes 
of the Army of the Tennessee, which include the remains of Gen- 
eral Beauregard. Elsewhere in Metairie are tombs of General 
Richard Taylor, General Fred N. Ogden and General John B. 
Hood, all important Confederate leaders. Jefferson Davis was 
buried here, but was removed. 

But perhaps the most interesting tomb is that of a scarlet lady, 
once reigning queen of New Orleans 's Story ville. Known as the 
Scarlet Grave of Josie Arlington, this tomb has attracted so much 
attention from a curious public that on several occasions police 
detachments have had to remain all night on the spot to main- 
tain order. Near-by corpses of respectable females must spin as 
on spits with envy. 

It seems that on certain nights Josie 's tomb glows with an 
eerie, fiery light, that, though appropriate, causes as much com- 
motion as did the lady during her hectic life, as if even Death 
could not completely extinguish her brilliance. Almost as much 
of a mystery is the bronze figure of a girl rapping on the door of 
the tomb. Sometimes, vow folk who live near the cemetery, the 
Maiden becomes angry and pounds the slab with both metallic 
fists with a din that may be heard for blocks. Strangers in the 
city inquiring about the noise are told, 'It's the Maiden trying 
to get in.' You see, rumor had it that Josie possessed her own 
code regarding her elaborate Story ville bagnio: she never per- 
mitted a virgin to enter her establishment, and when she erected 
her tomb in 1911, she had the statue placed there to symbolize 
this principle. Twice the Maiden has taken walks. Once she 
was found lying in a dump heap in the rear of the cemetery, the 
other time sprawled on her face in the grass along the Bayou 
St. John. People say the Maiden tired of knocking and tried to 
run away. Both incidents occurred on Halloween nights. The 
conventional-minded blame small boys. 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

But there is another legend concerning the Maiden. This one 
states that the statue is of Josie, herself. As a young girl she had 
stayed out too late, they say, and her father locked her out of her 
home, and though she pounded the door and pleaded with him, 
he would never allow her to enter again. So she went away to 
a career that was so successful as to allow her to build herself a 
tomb which cost seventeen thousand dollars. 

As far as the scarlet light is concerned, police once became 
tired of the public's curiosity and decided it was the reflection of 
a traffic light on the pink marble, and this is what they told 
everyone who asked. But there is not a traffic light anywhere 
near it. 

At the entrance to Holt Cemetery, where only Negroes are 
buried, is a sign reading: 







and HAVE IT LETTERED HERE pHCC 2.. 50, 3.00 and Up. 

On the other side of the entrance is another notice, with these 
instructions : 


& RE-LETTERED 1.50 Up 

By a Headboard with your Box 
& have it Lettered here 


SINGLE $9.00 Double $11.00 with Filling 

These 'boxes' are ground plots surrounded by plain twelve- 
inch boards, about six feet long and four feet wide, each and 
every board painted a 'battleship gray.' The purpose of the 
board is to provide inexpensive coping, so as to keep the dirt 
from washing from the grave. Headboards are also of wood with 


epitaphs painted thereon, usually crudely, and with black paint. 
There are a very few marble or granite headstones. 

The white sexton at Holt is well acquainted with the super- 
stitions prevalent among the Negroes who bury their dead there. 
'Sometimes when we dig open a grave we find all kinds of 
things,' he said. 'I've seen potatoes scooped out and filled with 
salt, and the top placed back on, and I've seen the people take 
some of the dirt from the grave home to sprinkle around their 
house. That's all voodoo stuff, you know. Some of 'em throw 
packages of needles or papers of pins on top the grave.' He 
smiled. 'And you ought to hear how they yell when they have 
a funeral!' 

Negroes say, 'Trample on the dust of the dead lightly,' and 
though it has a subtler meaning, Negroes don't walk on graves 
without experiencing some qualms. Perhaps the best-known 
belief has to do with lizards. Hundreds of these small green rep- 
tiles may be seen darting through shrubbery or in and out the 
crevices of tombs. And, say those who believe such things, he 
who kills or maims one in a graveyard will undoubtedly die 
within a year. 

Kill ole lizard on the grave, 
Ain't no charm your life can save. 

But it is extremely good luck should one cross your hand. On 
sunny days, when the chameleons are certain to appear in great 
numbers, many people may be seen in the graveyards resting 
their hands against tombs and waiting, sometimes for hours, 
for one of the little green lizards to crawl voluntarily over them. 

Funerals are not what they used to be. Nowadays we strive to 
lift as much of the gloomy atmosphere surrounding them as is 
possible under the circumstances; in other days every effort 
seems to have been made to create one as grim and mournful as 

'I remembers lots of stuff about funerals in them olden times,' 
admitted Eddie Ybos, retired hearse driver. 'It makes me mad 
the way they have funerals now. I see them with all the new- 
fangled doo-dads the way they put the coffin on top the grave 
on a artificial grass carpet and don't dump it in the hole until the 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

family has gone home. They even have a little iron cart to 
wheel that coffin to the hearse from the house, and from the 
hearse to the grave. It makes me think of the days when they 
really had funerals/ 

In many sections of the State, an announcement of the death, 
the hour of dying, the place and hour of the funeral and other de- 
tails were tacked up in prominent spots, usually on posts and 
trees. The notices were black-bordered, usually handwritten, 
though later they were sometimes typed or printed. Creoles of 
New Orleans had a 'Death Notice Blackboard' at the old Saint 
Louis Cathedral, and practically every Catholic Church in the 
State possessed the same convenience. These notices may still be 
seen in the Cajun portions of the State. 

'Now you just look in the papers to see who is dead,' said 
Eddie Ybos, ' and then you call your friends up on the telephone 
and tell 'em. But in my time we had to tack the notices on posts 
or sheds, or anywhere we could. Most of the ones I seen were 
handwritten. You had to get so much stuff on 'em. You know, 
who the dead man was husband of so and so, cousin of so and 
so, uncle of so and so; you know how New Orleans people have 
relatives. Grocery stores would let us put the notices up on 
their sides. Poles and fences and stores used to have tons of 
tacks in 'em, from people ripping old notices down and not both- 
ering to take out the tacks. Usually notices were just put up in 
the neighborhood where the dead person lived, but if they had 
money they'd spread 'em all over town. High-faluting people, 
I mean.' 

Before the advent of the automobile the horses pulling the 
hearse were draped with black and decorated with black plumes 
on their heads, if the person were old or even middle-aged; white 
was used for children and very young adults. The horses were 
often well trained, marching with impressive dignity, taking a 
single step with each note of the music, if there were a band. 
Old people were buried in black coffins and the door of the home 
was adorned with a black crepe. For middle-aged persons and 
married individuals of any age, lavender or gray was used; white 
was always for children. 

At the hour of death all clocks were stopped in the home and if 

Cemeteries ~ 55 * 

some family heirloom refused to stop it was broken, if necessary. 
Mirrors were covered, and the crepe hung on the front door. 
Many families had special coffee-pots, which would hold per- 
haps a full gallon, which they reserved only for wakes. One fam- 
ily in New Orleans retained the same pot for twenty years, and it 
was often borrowed for wakes by friends and neighbors. Some of 
these customs still exist. 

Hearse drivers wore special regalia, including high black hats 
known as beavers and black suits with frock tail coats. The 
hearses themselves were very black and very shiny, elaborately 
carved, and usually contained a window on each side of polished 
beveled glass through which the flower-bedecked coffin could 
be seen. People always glanced at the flowers and speculated on 
whether or not the deceased had received his due. Carriages were 
provided for the family and friends, usually in greater numbers 
than are the limousines of today, and practically all the women 
attending wore black clothing and mournful if possible, tear- 
streaked faces. 

Mourning raiment could, if necessary, be bought second hand, 
as in the following advertisement from the New Orleans Times, 
September -LI, 1867: 


Black, Double and Single Dalaine, Double and Single Al- 
pacas, Tamise and every description of Mourning Goods for 
sale for the present and coming season. Two hundred slightly 
damaged Delaine Shawls at $1 worth $5; 100 in good order 
from $1.50 to $4. Fine Delaine Shawls 50^, worth 75^. $ios 
and $ios at par. 

S. G. Kreeger 

No. 607 Magazine street 

Mourning was so widely, and so frequently, worn since it 
was adopted for every relative, no matter how distant that 
the business must have been a profitable one. 

Before the days of the funeral parlor, when everyone was bur- 
ied from home, people of less than moderate means were often 
ashamed of their poorly furnished houses. Undertakers remedied 
this by redecorating the place before the funeral. Carpets were 

^ J2 Gtimbo Ya-Ya 

laid, fancy lace curtains hung at the windows, appropriate 
touches of black crepe draped here and there, and chairs provided 
for the visitors at wake and funeral. This service may still be 
secured, though in New Orleans, an increasing number of fam- 
ilies use the mortuary parlors. One old man said: 'Nowadays 
people are born in hospitals, get married in hotels, buried from 
the undertaker's. All they use their homes for is a place to 
change clothes/ 

The New Orleans Courier carried the following announcements 
on July 18, 1810: 


No. 2.5, St. Louis Street 

Has the honor to inform the public that he has formed a soci- 
ety with MR. FERNANDEZ, Cabinet-maker, St. Ann Street, for 
the decorating of Coffins and mourning hangings only. They 
will neglect nothing to satisfy those persons who may favor 
them with their custom, by giving 4 hours notice. 


will be hired on moderate terms and at various prices. They 
will also undertake to hang in black the front of the church as. 
well as to provide coffin furniture at reasonable prices. 

Mr. Houdon continues to keep his store in St. Louis Street, 
where he makes every species of the most fashionable orna- 
ments for beds, curtains, etc. Hangs bells in chambers, having 
lately received everything necessary for the purpose Paints 
in imitation of marble or wood. Makes and sells feather beds, 
mattresses, pillows, bolsters and the necessary furniture. 

In those other days, the days of thick and trailing veils for 
widows and mournful black for children as young as three years 
of age, it was considered no less than indecent for grief to be re- 
strained. Lamentations like this one, from the Times-Democrat 
of a half century ago, were considered beautiful. 

No ! 'Tis not true that we shall never more see his face, and 
hear of his unselfish and charitable deeds! Oh, no, no, no! It 
cannot be that ever more will we be robbed of his unselfish 
devotion to all who needed his assistance. Oh, Lazare, Laz- 

Cemeteries ~ 55 5 

are! Why were you so good to all but yourself! Why, oh, why 
did you so wrap yourself 'round the heart of all with whom you 
'came in contact, only to be ruthlessly torn away from them, 
laid low by the assassin's bullet? It had been better had you 
not been so good and so unselfish; then the blow would not be 
so hard to bear. Oh, 'tis too much, 'tis grief unbearable! 
Flow on, thou tears; he deserves them all. But, oh! 'tis hard 
ro have to choke them down, for the doctor says I must not, 
inust not weep; oh, to be forbidden to even weep for you, 
good, good, oh, good Lazare! Tis too hard; 'tis too much 
wringing of the heartstrings! Oh, the tears; oh, the wails of 
the broken hearts around your bier; but flow, flow thou on, 
dear tears; he was worthy of them all, the tears of the sisters 
and brothers and widows and orphans, all, all, he deserves 
them all! How we shall miss you, miss you, Lazare! Only 
thirty-seven years old, and to be laid away forever! Never- 
more to see your kind, laughing blue eyes, no, nevermore! 
Oh, Lazare! 

A sister 

Morris Hoy recalled a strange incident which occurred in New 
Orleans some years ago, when a woman 'died' three times in a 

'I'm only telling you what I seen with my own eyes,' Morris 
said. 'It was either in 1904 or 1905, and this woman was about 
sixty or seventy at the time. She did some sewing for a family 
named Heyl that lived next door to us. One day Ira Heyl and 
me went to her for his mother we was just kids then and 
we walked in and seen this old lady sitting at her machine with 
her head down, looking awfully funny. We called to her and 
when she didn't answer, we got scared, but Ira was a tough kid 
and he lifted her head and said, cool as you please, "Morris, the 
old lady's croaked!" 

1 We called the neighbors and a lot of people come in, including 
O'Toole, a cop in the neighborhood, so plenty people saw that 
old lady besides Ira and me. The women got to work and got the 
corpse dressed and laid out on the bed and I swear she was as 
dead as a doornail. Then everybody went outside to wait for the 
undertaker and all of them went home except Ira and me. We 
were standing there and all of a sudden we heard something. Ira 

354 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

said, "What's that I hear?" I listened and then I sure was 
skeered, 'cause it was the old lady's sewing machine. And no- 
body in that house but her! 

' Ira had to do a lot of talking, but at last we walked on in 
and do you know that dead woman was setting there sewing? 
"Oh, hello, Ira," she said. "I'll have your mother's things 
ready in a few minutes." We didn't say nothing. We just dived 
out the door and started running. We ran right smack into a 
neighbor, Mrs. Schroeder and her heading into the house. 
Ira and me got O'Toole, the cop, and come back, and just as we 
got there here come Mrs. Schroeder, tearing out of the house and 
screaming, * ' Gott in Himmel! Gott in Himmel!' ' She grabbed hold 
of O'Toole and kept saying, "Mrs. King's come back from the 
dead. Ach, Gott in Himmel!" O'Toole went inside and come out 
white as a ghost. "Glory Be!" he cried. " If it ain't the truth. 
The old girl's risen from the dead!" 

'Then all the neighbors that had come to see her dead went in 
to see her alive again. 

'Well, about an hour afterwards Ira's mother asked us to go 
see Mrs. King again about her sewing. We were still skeered so 
we got O'Toole and all three of us walked into the house again. 
All the sewing was finished and piled up neatly on a trunk, and 
there lay the old lady on the bed dead as a doornail again. 
O'Toole shook her, then he stuck pins in her. "Well," he said, 
"she's dead again!" We got Mrs. Schroeder and Ira's mother, 
Mrs. Heyl, and then what do you think we noticed? The old 
lady had changed clothes. Remember she had been dressed in 
her burying clothes the first time she died. Now she had on her 
old clothes. Now, five of us saw that, don't forget it! That ain't 
all. We waited around outside for the undertaker, and O'Toole 
went back inside for a few minutes. In less time than it takes to 
tell about it, he come beating it back out white as a ghost again. 
"Guess what?" says he. "The old girl has changed her clothes 
again. Now she's dressed like she was laid out before!" The 
five of us run in and, sure enough, that old lady had changed her 
clothes again. I'm telling you the truth. That old lady died 
three times in about two hours. This last time she was croaked 
for good. They buried her.' 



Eddie Ybos remembered a funeral of a certain man during a 
rainstorm about 1895. 

' This day it teemed, ' he said, ' and the funeral kept waiting for 
the storm to stop. People didn't embalm much then and the 
body was getting very bad. You could hardly stand it in the 
parlor. We knew something had to be done. Some of the men 
took off their shoes and socks, rolled up their pants, and carried 
the coffin out to the hearse. The next thing was to get the people 
into their carriages. 

'The widow of that dead man was a very fat lady; must have 
weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds. You know in them 
days women didn't diet. Well, I was driving the family carriage 
and I pulled up in front of the house slowly and made a runway of 
planks from the front steps to my carriage. The widow was cry- 
ing and shrieking and she got on those planks with the men all 
straining to hold her up. This was her big moment now, you 
gotta realize that! She was all dressed up in her widow's weeds 
and a heavy black veil, and she was bawling to beat the band. 
She made that plank fine. It swayed and wobbled, but every- 
thing was all right. 

'Then it happened. As she went to get into the carriage, and 
had one foot on the step, her weight was too much for the thing. 
It tilted over and all the water that had collected on top come 
down on her like Niagara Falls. She let out a yell like a wild 
Indian, forgot all about her husband, and began shrieking her 
beautiful veil was ruined. It sure was, too. It was rolled up 
right on top of her head like a wet ball. 

' Yeah, finally we got her into the carriage, but that ain't all. 
Her sister, who was much fatter than she was, and a couple of 
other women, was right behind her, and when the carriage 
tilted, kerplunk! they all went down into the flood. The sister 
landed flat on her bottom and sat there with water almost up to 
her neck howling like a hurt dog. "Oh, my leg is broke! It's 
busted! Get a doctor!" It sure was funny. Everybody started 

'We finally got to the graveyard. Then we had to use a flat- 
bottom boat to get the coffin to the tomb. Everybody just 
walked through the water. The widow was already wet and had 

3$ 6- Gumbo Ya-Ya 

her veil off, so she decided she couldn't get any wetter. Years 
afterwards they would laugh and say, ' ' Remember when Charles 
died?" And the grandchildren would say, "Remember when 
Grandpa was buried, and Grandma ruined her beautiful veil?" 


'It sure is dead around here,' remarked Mr. Saint Pe, standing 
in the center of Saint Roch Cemetery Number 2.. ' The men ain't 
even started whitewashing the fences, or nothing. How the hell 
they expect to have things ready for All Saints' Day, me, I don't 
know. I ain't never seen a year slow like this in my whole entire 

Mr. Saint Pe referred, of course, to the annual clean-up cam- 
paign which takes place in all Louisiana cemeteries, starting a 
week or two before All Saints' Day. He offered the information 
that he was 'just passing through the graveyard like,' and ap- 
parently he does that quite often. , 

Pointing to the ruins of the Mausoleum of Saint Michael the 
Archangel, he said: 'That ain't used hardly any more. They 
started to demolish it down, but they found out they can some- 
times rent a vault for somebody with a baby to bury in it. ' Then 
he pointed to a tomb. 'That's old Freddie Dudenhopfer in 
there,' he stated. 'He was the man who owned the brewery's 
son. He run off with a girl dancing in a show, you see, and stole 
a lot of money from the City Hall where he was working at. 
Then he come back, got married and lived thirty years. Ended 
up with another job at the City Hall. Now his wife the poor 
thing! comes out and puts flowers on his tomb.' 

Mr. Saint Pe rolled his eyes expressively. 'I just hope All 
Saints' ain't slipping,' he said, rather sadly. 'People shouldn't 
let nothing beautiful like that slip, huh?' He added softly, in an 
extremely confidential tone, 'I love flowers, me!' 

It seemed the cleaning and beautification of the cemeteries was 
actually a bit slow getting started in 1941, but of course it did. 
They came slowly at first, but day by day their numbers in- 
creased, until by the afternoon of October 31 Halloween after- 
noon, the day before All Saints' Day men, women and chil- 


dren, carrying buckets of whitewash, scrubbing brushes and yel- 
low soap, paint and gilt, shears, rakes, trowels and spades, 
crowded the more than thirty graveyards of New Orleans, scrub- 
bing and whitewashing tombs and plot copings, blackening or 
silvering ironwork, gilding epitaphs and battling vigorously 
against grass and weeds. Louisianians are as a whole great 
cemetery-goers all year round, but even most of those who don't 
attend all year appear for this occasion. They would as soon 
allow the family place to appear in a neglected state on All 
Saints' Day as would a Creole dowager attend a Mardi Gras ball 
wearing her third-best wrapper and in her bare feet. 

The cemeteries do some cleaning themselves, whitewashing 
the high brick walls that surround many, cutting grass and 
weeds, cleaning walls, attending to those burial places which 
have purchased 'perpetual care,' the latter a sort of insurance 
some of them offer. Every provision is usually made for this All 
Saints' Day, which is probably to the dead what the New Or- 
leans Mardi Gras is to the living of that city. Holt Cemetery, a 
Negro graveyard, for instance, had six new graves dug 'just 
in case we have some funerals,' explained the sexton. 'Nobody 
wants to stop to dig graves on All Saints' Day.' 

Every part of Louisiana honors the day. In the rural sections 
to the south 'the Cajun country* nocturnal Mass is said in 
the cemeteries Halloween night. Blessed candles are lighted on 
the graves, and priests perform the ancient rites of the Roman 
Catholic Church for the souls of the departed. Some families 
spend the entire night beside the family tomb, praying, lighting 
fresh candles as the old ones burn out all with a faith mar- 
velous to behold. Once candles were burned on graves in New 
Orleans, but this practice has been discontinued. 

But the preparations for the day continue. Mamma and the 
children will spend at least one morning or one afternoon at the 
work. Shoes and stockings are frequently removed, and the 
walk before the burial place is 'scrubbed' with a broom and a 
bucket of water, then the tomb or vault is cleaned. Should the 
vault be one of the 'ovens' high in the wall, ladders are brought 
along or borrowed from the sexton. Later Papa will probably 
appear with whitewash and a brush and set to work. Epitaphs 

3$ 8 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

are blackened or gilded. Lately color seems to be coming into 
its own in New Orleans cemeteries. While there was always a 
pink tomb to be seen here and there, lavender, bright, bright 
green, sky blue, orange -yellow and silver ones were seen on All 
Saints' Day, 1941, promising endless, though rather startling, 
possibilities for the future. 

Young white boys and Negroes haunt the cemetery gates for 
a week or two before All Saints', stopping everyone entering to 
offer their services in cleaning the graves, or selling buckets of 
sand, which is frequently used to cover plots. ' Clean up for you, 
Mister?' they offer. ' Wantcha tomb washed, Lady? I got sand, 
Lady.' Hired, they go to work, washing, weeding, whitewash- 
ing, their trousers rolled above their knees, their feet bare. 

The women meet in the graveyard and gossip. 

' Did you hear about Willie Metz? He's dead, you know. Had 
a pain in his back and dropped in his tracks. It was women done 
it. You knew Willie.' 

'Remember poor Mrs. Grandjean? Yes, my Gawd! she's been 
dead over a month. She was in bed almost a year, poor soul, and 
her daughter didn't go near her. I tell you, children don't do you 
much good. They always find out too late how they need you. 
When a mother's dead, children ain't got nuttin'. Wish you'd 
have heared the way that daughter yelled at the funeral. I gotta 
go make my stations now.' 

' Stations?' 

'That's just what I call it. You see, I got my daughter-in-law 
in Saint Louis Number i, and I got a husband and a daughter in 
Number x, and my grandson's in Number 3, and my second hus- 
band's in Saint Roch's. You see, I gotta fix 'em all up for All 
Saints', so I call it making the stations. The husband I got now 
wants to be buried in that Hope Mausoleum, but I tell him, ' ' My 
Gawd, if you die before me, and I have to go to your place, too, 
I'll be a wreck!" 

A young woman with dark hair and a pretty face was silvering 
a fence around a tomb in Saint Vincent de Paul's. Her small son, 
playing in the walk, called out, 'Mamma, what time does it 

'He loves All Saints',' she explained. 'He sees all the candy 
and icecream men, and he thinks it's a party.' 


A fat woman rested on a coping, while her daughter covered 
a wooden slab in a vault with white enamel. Popping her gum 
loudly, she encouraged the girl with, 'That looks swell, kid. 
You're doing a swell job! You know that's the same enamel 
I'm gonna use in my kitchen. You can see how nice it's gonna 
look. Gee, that looks swell.' 

Suddenly there was a gust of wind and two vases filled with 
filthy water toppled from the shelf of the vault above, streaming 
down the freshly painted slab and into the girl's hair. The 
mother jumped to her feet. 

'Oh, God! Oh, God!' she screamed. 'Look at that! Here, 
use this rag. Get it off the slab quick. Don't worry about that 
hair of yourn. You can wash that when you get home. Oh, 
God! Look at that beautiful enamel. That's them Dupres up 
there. If they kept their place decent and emptied their vases 
sometimes that wouldn't happen. Oh, I hope you can get it off. 
Them Dupres! I used to know some of 'em. I always say people 
must keep their houses just like they keep their graves, me!' 

Another woman came quickly down the walk, placed three 
chrysanthemums in a vase, then slapped her hands together 
briskly. ' There !' she said. ' Now they can tell I been here. They 
always talking I don't come. Well, I ain't much for graveyards. 
I say, everyone to his taste ! Now, I know one woman and ceme- 
teries is her hobby, I tell you the truth. When her husband died 
she had to build a great big expensive tomb and all, and she's 
always there with flowers and all. I say, there's always remorse 
when you see things like that. That poor man couldn't hardly 
never go out at night or play a game of cards. She really nagged 
him to death, I believe. Sometimes he'd drink a little bit, and 
would she almost kill him! Too bad she couldn't have been as 
good to him when he was alive as when he's dead. But now the 
cemetery is her hobby. It's all she lives for. They got lots of 
people like that.' She sighed. * I had an awful thing to do once. 
They was digging up my Uncle Henry to move him, and some 
member of the family had to be there as a witness. Of course, 
they picked on me! I was scared to death. They pulled him out 
and I had to look at him. Do you know that man looked just 
like the day he had died, his mustache, shroud and all. His 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

flesh was solid. Of course, I could easily understand how he got 1 
petrified. He drank so much he got pickled from the inside out!' 

The flowers usually start arriving about noon of Halloween, 
continue until well after dark. Most of the New Orleans grave- 
yards are kept open until about 9 P.M. on Halloween, and some- 
times people bring their floral offerings on their way to parties. 
Many cemeteries keep watchmen there that night to ensure 
against theft or vandalism. Children dressed in their 'ghost' 
costumes, carrying pumpkin lanterns, accompany their parents 
'to put out the flowers.' 

All Saints' Day begins early. Soon after dawn the streetcars 
and buses are packed with people carrying chrysanthemums 
wrapped in green tissue paper. Everyone wants to get their 
flowers out as early as possible, if they have neglected to place 
them Halloween, for if anyone sees their tomb or grave sans 
floral adornment it will cause 'talk.' Many Orleanians actually 
shudder with horror at the sight of an undecorated burial place 
that day, and will almost feel called upon to ostracize the ' heart- 
less* relatives of whoever is buried therein. 

While in other sections of the country graves are decorated on 
Memorial Day and All Souls' Day, there is actually no counter- 
part of this day elsewhere in the United States. Here there is 
rivalry, a bit of envy, much gossip. Woe to the person who 
places a cheap bouquet in a vase for All Saints' Day, when every- 
one knows he can afford better ! Chrysanthemums often as 
large as cabbages are the 'All Saints' flower,' often costing a 
dollar or more apiece. Some families place out a basket contain- 
ing a dozen or more of these. Orleanians will go hungry to buy 
flowers for this occasion. While not a general holiday, State and 
City offices and banks close, and many other business places 
allow employees time off to 'go to the cemeteries.' It is an ac- 
cepted fact that all Orleanians 'go to the cemeteries' on All 
Saints' Day. 

As the day proceeds toward noon, cemetery neighborhoods are 
thickly crowded. Automobiles and streetcars block and jam 
around the Metairie section, where more than a score of traffic 
police are on special duty. Pedestrians, bearing their flowers, 
cross streets at great peril, run, skip and leap for their lives. In 

Cemeteries 361 

such large cemeteries as Metairie and Greenwood there are other 
policemen, one directing traffic at every turn and interesection. 
Vendors line the street curbings, selling peanuts, popcorn, ice- 
cream, hotdogs, balloons and toys. 'Fresh parched peanuts!' 
they cry. 'I got peanuts. Five cents a bag! I got chewing gum 
anda candy!' Negro women hawk pecan and coconut pralines, 
calling, 'Pyrines! Pyrine candy!' Men peddle cold drinks from 
wooden tubs filled with ice. 

The morning of the 1941 All Saints' Day there were many out 
a large white pushcart with red wheels, green awnings, and 
with an American flag waving gaily from the top sold pralines, 
pecan rolls, nougat and other candy, besides peanuts. A Mexican 
sold hot tamales from another pushcart. Across the street from 
Greenwood Cemetery the 'Ritzy Dot Cafe' offered on its sign- 
board : 


^* f 


Other peanut wagons passed, most of them decorated with col- 
ored crepe paper and peanuts strung into garlands. At cemetery 
gates sandwiches and small pies were sold from pasteboard car- 
tons. Icecream men were everywhere, with such signs as 'Try 
a WHALE! The big 5^ frozen goodie.' Other vendors approached 
automobiles at stop signs to offer 'Carmel Crisp Popcorn.' 

There was a small crowd around a notice posted at the entrance 
to Saint Patrick's Cemetery Number i, which read, in part: 

Dear Lot Owners : 

In line with our plans for improving these cemeteries, on 
and after Nov. ist. 1941, all grass mounds that have not re- 
ceived attention and were overgrown with weeds during the 
past year will be removed. All open spaces will be leveled to 
grade in order to control grass growth next year. 

The St. Patrick cemeteries are now in a position to offer you 
first class grave cleaning service at a rate of 50^ a month, or 
$5 .00 a year. 

The notice was signed, ' Rev. Carl J. Schutten.' There were many 
complaints in the crowd, protests of 'I can't read. I didn't bring 

5 6 2 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

my glasses.' A young nun, who had been kneeling before a 
grave, rose and walking quietly over to the notice began to read 
it aloud. Sitting on the coping of a plot within the cemetery, a 
red-faced, very stout Irishwoman wept profusely and at the same 
time drank beer from a carton of six bottles. 

By noon every banquette was crowded, some still arriving with 
flowers, but most strolling from one graveyard to another, since 
many folk 'make' as many cemeteries as possible on All Saints' 
Day. In fact, some bring or buy lunch and stay from dawn until 
dusk. And there is nothing sad about it all. Rather there is, in 
general, the atmosphere of a fiesta. 

Downtown, on Louisa Street, Saint Vincent de Paul's has 
more than its share of this spirit. No other cemetery has so many 
peddlers and vendors, none is more crowded, and none clings 
more firmly to the old ways. At least until 1940 gumbo and hot 
coffee were still sold there, and that year one grave held a chipped 
white saucer in which reposed a slice of fruitcake ! Some curious 
things decorated the graves and vaults on All Saints' Day, 1941 
elaborate paper flowers, a huge cross of pink and white tissue 
paper entirely covering one grave, holy statues enclosed in glass, 
flowers in tins left over from meats, coffee, jam, pickles, peanut 
butter and pork and beans (and no one ever bothers to remove 
the labels). At the gates vendors offered icecream, candy, pra- 
lines, peanuts, apples on sticks, soft drinks, balloons, toy birds 
flying gaily from sticks, hot dogs and toy skeletons. 

Outside one gate, two young colored women sold pralines 
from a wooden table on the banquette. ' My grandma left me this 
recipe,' explained one. 'Nobody makes 'em quite like us. 
Grandma was a hundred years old when she died, and she sold 
'em here up to the last year. She used to make the best popcorn 
balls in town, and everybody called her "Popcorn Mary." I 
didn't make none of them this year; it's been too wet and rainy.' 

A customer purchased one of the small skeletons, and when he 
bounced it up and down from the rubber attached to its head, the 
head came off. There was some argument, and finally the vendor 
gave him a new skeleton and he went strolling down an aisle 
between the high whitewashed tombs bouncing his toy up and 

Cemeteries . 

A woman came running down another aisle, seized a young 
girl by the arm. 'Ain't you Teeny?' she gasped excitedly. 'My, 
I ain't seen you in years ! Honey, I knew your mother long before 
you was born. My God, yes! Come on over and meet my hus- 
band, Teeny. Sure, I married again, but he's the sweetest thing. 
He always comes to Joe's grave wit' me. I know that ain't 
nut tin', but you know how some men is.' 

Other women conversed before another grave. 'Now, what 
do you think of that !' remarked one. ' I knew right down to my 
toes there wouldn't be nothing here. Much she cares. Got one 
man right behind the other.' 

'She's just a slut,' said her friend casually. 

Boys walked about trying to sell vases ' Thoity cents 
apiece. Git a brand-new vase for your flowers thoity cents!' 
Others sold milk bottles, pickle jars and like containers for five 
cents, and these brought more buyers. 

Many vases were adorned with ribbons of satin or tulle, some 
bearing golden letters reading, 'Beloved,' or 'To Our Loved 
One,' or 'Grandmother and Papa from Children and Grand- 

In the midst of it all, two men entered carrying a casket. The 
visitors cleared a way for them in the walks, then hurried behind 
to see who was being buried. The men and the coffin journeyed 
to an 'oven' in the rear wall, where efforts were made to fit the 
coffin into the vault. It wouldn't fit. Then one of the men said 
to the other: 'They're just gonna have to buy a smaller one. 
This'll never make it.' With that they turned around, and car- 
ried the casket back down the aisle and out of the cemetery. 
Apparently the big gray coffin was empty, and they were just 
ascertaining whether or not it would 'make it' and fit into the 
'oven.' Everyone returned to the other businesses of the day. 
A fat and female cynic plumped herself down on the steps of a 
tomb, removed her shoes, and groaned: 'My God! My feets! 
This is just a big show, that's all it is. I don't know why I 
come.' A mother passed dragging a small boy by one arm. He 
wore his tall, pointed, bright orange Halloween hat and was 
engaged in blowing noisily upon a bright orange Halloween 

^ 64 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Years ago there were many things to be seen that have now 
vanished. Nuns used to beg at the gate of each New Orleans cem- 
etery, orphans beside them, who shook coins noisily in a tin pan 
or rang a cowbell. Negro mammies, resplendent in blue calico, 
red tignons and starched white aprons and fichues, sold steaming 
bowls of gumbo, pralines and slices of pain patate the last a 
now almost forgotten delicacy of sweet potatoes, baked into a 
sort of cake, highly seasoned with spices and black pepper 
fanning their wares with colorful chasse mouches fly whips, 
made of strips of vari-colored paper. 

The observance of the day seems to be as old as the city, 
brought over, of course, from Latin Europe. Creoles used many 
elaborately designed wreaths of beads on wire frames, more 
artificial flowers than now, these often made from fish scales, 
wax or metal, as well as paper. Royal Street establishments 
specialized in such adornments, families demanding special and 
individual ' made to order' designs, not wanting anything simi- 
lar to their friends' displays. Tombs were frequently draped in 
black crepe and velvet, and vigil lights were burned before the 
slabs, with crowns of jet beads topping all. A few days after All 
Saints' Day the designs were usually returned to the family so 
that they might be reused another time. 

The dahlia, rather than the chrysanthemum, was formerly the 
most popular flower. As there were comparatively few florists, 
most flowers were homegrown. Coxcombs a coarse red 
flower resembling a rooster's headdress once enjoyed a great 
vogue among poorer Creoles. Some families used so many flow- 
ers that a horse and wagon was hired to convey the whole to the 
cemetery. Often servants were left to spend the day beside the 
family tomb, to prevent theft or destruction. Rosaries draped 
the slabs, and may still be seen occasionally. Besides food and 
refreshment, vendors sold statues of saints from trays, potted 
plants, wreaths. Many people made their own wreaths, and for 
days before the great event, the house would be littered with 
paraphernalia for these creations. A favorite type was of black 
beads and wire, with a central, glass-enclosed section containing 
strands of hair from the head of the deceased. 

Creoles kept close watch over who visited whose tombs, for 

Cemeteries 3 6 5 

this had all sorts of amazing implications. Should a widower 
fail to be seen at the resting place of his dead wife, it indicated 
he was about to remarry; even so, some scorn was felt at his 
neglect. Old ladies would spend the day seated on the wrought- 
iron benches then so numerous in the cemeteries, saying their 
rosaries, but with one eye on the beads and the other on who 
came and departed. Even tears were almost counted, one by one, 
and a certain number were expected under certain circumstances. 
It was virtually impossible to find a grave without a flower. 
Should a family die out, some friend or acquaintance would re- 
member to leave at least a single blossom on All Saints' Day. 
One gradually aging Negress brought one flower every year to 
the tomb of a white soldier killed in the War Between the States. 
At the end of more than forty years the flower ceased to appear; 
then everyone knew she had died. During the last years of the 
nineteenth century Negresses were often seen placing flowers on 
the graves of white men, and gossip always had it that they 
were the former mistresses of the white men they thus honored. 

Though some of the things belonging to an earlier era have 
vanished, there seems little chance of the whole 'slipping,' as 
Mr. Saint Pe so aptly put it. The cemeteries were as crowded as 
ever in 1942.. In the Roman Catholic ones, priests appeared at 
three o'clock in the afternoon, and ' blessed' all the graves, walk- 
ing swiftly up and down the aisles, sprinkling holy water and 
trailed by swarms of people. 

But All Saints' Day is not entirely Catholic. The Protestant 
and non-sectarian graveyards are as crowded and as flower-be- 
decked as any of the Catholic ones, for the day has become the 
day to 'put out flowers' and to 'go to the cemeteries.' 

Chapter 17 

Riverfront Lore 


Mississippi River as it flows through Louisiana, especially at 
New Orleans. A visitor who drinks of it will surely return to 
that city; if he washes his face in it, his luck is bound to change 
from bad to good. And because all New Orleans water comes 
from the river there is no way he can avoid doing either. The 
river water is beautifying, too; everybody knows all Louisiana 
women are beautiful. Furthermore, it increases fecundity. 
Women who cannot bear children in any other part of the world 
invariably become pregnant within a year after their arrival in 

If you are suffering under a voodoo curse, if some potent gris- 
gris has been concocted to do you harm, it is wise to hire a skiff 
and row across the river. When you get to the other side, you 
step on land; then you get right back in the skiff and start for the 
side from which you came. In the middle of the stream stop 
and throw a coin over your left shoulder. That will break the 
most powerful curse an enemy can place upon you. 

However, you must be careful of the river, too, for there are 
bad-luck things, as well as good-luck things. You must never 

Riverfront Lore 

throw an animal or fowl into the Mississippi. That is almost 
the most dangerous thing you could possibly do. 

And the riverfront is alive with ghosts, ghosts of murdered 
seamen and river pirates and stevedores, of great early explorers 
and of ignominious 'wharf rats,' bad ghosts, good ghosts and 
just plain ghosts, Jakie Walker met a ghost one day and the 
ghost did him a lot of good. Jakie was a roustabout and had 
been working on the river for more than thirty years, knew 
most of its secrets and all its tricks, so undoubtedly the story is 
perfectly true. 

Jakie had enjoyed a very hectic evening. He was quite drunk. 
Now that the party was over and his friends had all drifted 
homeward, worry of the most profound sort began to seep into 
his somewhat befogged brain. Mostly on account of his wife. 
Jakie's wife was one of those strong-minded females with an 
antipathy to drinking husbands. Sometimes she beat Jakie. 
That was why he decided not to go home until his condition was 
less obvious. He started walking and before he realized where 
he had been drifting he found himself on the wharves where he 

'I jest drifted around out there,' he explained. 'I seen the 
watchman, but he knowed me, so he didn't say nothin' but, 
"Jakie, what you doin' out here lookin' like you sick?" I told 
him 'bout my woman and he jest laughed and let me alone. 

' It felt real good out there, you know, with the wind from the 
river blowin' in my face and all them nice river smells. I found 
me a corner and set myself down to rest and try to think what I 
could tell that woman when I got home. I didn't go to sleep. 
No, sir. I kept me eyes wide open. Then it happened. Man, I'm 
tellin' you straight, I can still see that thing! It ain't no word 
of lie, either. 

'That thing come driftin' right over the top of the river. It 
was shaped jest like a man only it weared a long black gown 
what dragged behind it for a long piece. That thing kept comin'. 
It come slowly, too. I wanted to run, but I couldn't. I wanted 
to holler, but I couldn't. It got closer and closer to me. I swear 
I could feel the heat of that thing on my body that thing was 
burnin' and burnin' right into me. Looked like it wanted to 

5 68 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

crawl through my eyes! And I couldn't do nothin'. I had hell 
on my hands. 

'Then all of a sudden my voice come back. I jest opened my 
mouth and the words come out. 

"What I got you want?" I yelled, with that thing right there 
blowin' its breath in my face. "What I got you want?" 

'You know that thing didn't say nothin' right away? Jest 
stood there, lookin' at me; and I set there just lookin' at it. Then 
them long arms opened up like a cross and the waves in the 
water started hummin'. I thought that thing was gonna hug me. 
"Don't you touch me!" I hollered. "I ain't got nothin' you 
want." Then it spoke to me and its voice was deep down and 

"Jakie," that thing said, "the waves is callin' me back, but I 
ain't movin' a step until I talks with you. You remembers me, 
but I ain't tellin' you who I is. I drownded right here in this 
river. I is a ghost now, Jakie I is a ghost of the Mississippi 
River, and I got something to tell you, Jakie. You is gonna leave 
this here earth soon unless you stops your drinkin'." 

'I didn't say nothin'. I jest looked at that thing hard. Scared 
as I was I was thinkin' even a ghost got nerve to come around 
and try to rectify my drinkin'. 

"Jakie," that thing said, "I done been sent to take you away 
with me. I done been sent to take you to my watery grave. 
But you is a good man, Jakie, you really is, outside your 
drinkin'. All you got to do is stop. Tell me right now, boy, 
what is your determination in this matter?" 
'I thought a minute and I studied a minute. 

"Ghost," I said, "drinkin' is the pleasure of my life. I 
ain't stoppin' for nobody." 

"Jakie," that thing said, "you knows that ain't my answer." 

"Does you know my wife?" I asked that thing. 

"I does," it said, "and I knows how you feel, but, Jakie, you 
gotta stop drinkin'. Now I'm gonna do some of my stuff so as 
you'll know I mean what I says." 

' Then that thing started to do its stuff. The waves in the river 
started rollin ' and they started risin ' . All of a sudden they makes 
a noise like I ain't never heared to this day. Then they comes up 

Riverfront Lore 369 

over that wharf and they was like arms reachin' out for Jakie 
Walker. Brother, what would you do? 

"I promises you, ghost," I said. "If you will jest go away 
and take them waves with you, I promises you I ain' never gonna 
drink again," 

'Then everything was all right. That thing turned around and 
went right away and them waves stopped risin' and stopped 
rollin* and hollerin* for Jakie Walker. I swear I ain't touched a 
drop of liquor of no kind since that night. Every payday I totes 
my money home to my woman and we ain't had much trouble 
since. And this is the funniest part of it. Do you know that 
when I got home that night my wife was waitin' for me right in 
the door? I was scared stiff, but you know what she done? She 
jest throwed her arms 'round my neck and screams, "Jakie, 
honey, I dreamed you was dead. And I sure is glad to see you!" 
"Baby," I says, "I was almost dead, but I is a new man now." 

4 Some people says she done the whole thing, that she done had 
me hoodooed. Maybe so. I don't know. I jest knows I ain't 
drinkin' no more.' 

The longshoreman takes himself very seriously and he takes 
the river very seriously, with all its ghosts, its legends and its 
customs. Every once in a while one of them meets a ghost per- 
sonally and shines for a long time in his own particular spot- 
light, for the yarn is never forgotten, but repeated again and 
again. They never, for instance, forget the fellow who met the 
Sprinkle Man. 

'One day I was walkin' out here,' testifies this black laborer, 
'on my way to work in broad daylight, mindin' strictly to my 
own affairs. I just happened to turn around and lo and behold! 
I seen a man sprinklin' dollar bills all over the banquette. I know 
there's no man in his right mind gonna do a thing like that. I 
called out and asked him why he was doin' that. I begun to 
think maybe no man in his right mind was gonna see a thing like 
that. That Sprinkle Man wouldn't answer; he kept right on 
thro win' them bills around. Then I knew either he was crazy to 
be doin' that or I was crazy not to do some thin' about it. So I 
jumped. Man, I jumped right at them bills all over the ban- 
quette. I jumped and I grabbed. And what do you think I 

j? 7 o Gumbo Ya-Ya 

jumped at and what do you think I grabbed at? Leaves. That's 
what. Nothin' in the world but leaves. All them dollar bills 
turned into leaves before I could touch 'em. Then that Sprinkle 
Man stood there and laughed at me. "See?" he said. "That's 
what's the matter with all you people. You puts money first 
before everything else." That's how come I know I ain't never 
gonna be rich. The Sprinkle Man told me so.' 

Amy Guidry, seventy-six-year-old Negress, who dwells in a 
willow grove along the river battures, is familiar with many of 
the ghosts. Tse can see ghosts every night,' Amy declares. 
Tse always sees 'em on All Saints' Night. There's two mens 
walk around here wearin' dark pants and white shirts. The pe- 
culiar thing about them is that they ain't got no heads. There 
used to be a wolf what would run right out of the water and then 
run back in. Mens come out and try to shoot him. I told 'em 
they was wastin* their time, but they kept on tryin' for a long 
time. 'Course that wasn't no real wolf at all, but the spirit of a 
bad person what changed hisself into a wild beast. The river- 
front is full of ghostses. You can see them all the time out here. ' 

Longshoremen still sing as they work, black man's blues and 

Got the riverfront blues, baby, and I'm blue as I can be, 
Got the riverfront blues, baby, and I'm blue as I can be, 
That ole Mississippi sure is makin' a fool out of me. 

My baby is there when the man gives me my check, 
Oh, my baby is there when the man gives me my check, 
When I looks at the river I feel like cuttin' my neck. 

That river, that river, ole man riverfront blues. 

Oh, the riverfront blues, talk about havin' them riverfront blues. .< . 

That's the Riverfront Blues as Buddy Hackett sings it. 'I ain't 
worryin' 'bout nothin' at all,' says Buddy. 'I jest sings 'bout it 
all. Wimmen and the river and hard work, they is all the same. 
Trouble. Listen here: 

Say> I'm gonna give you my lovin' and my money, too, 
Mamma, I'm gonna give you my lovin' and my money, too. 
Tell me, baby, what else can I do? 

Riverfront Lore 3 7 1 

On the riverfront every mornin', when the clock strikes five. 

Baby, I'm on the riverfront every mornin' when the clock strikes five. 

And I don't even know if I'm comin' back alive. 

I got a gal in Texas and a gal in Tennessee. 
Mamma, I got a gal in Texas and a gal in Tennessee. 
All I got to do is write and she'll come runnin* to me. 

So, keep goin', black woman, my day will come. 

Keep goin', black woman, my day will come. 

That's the day, you rider, I'm gonna have you on a hum. 

With recreation promised, Buddy looks forward to 'knockin' 
off' with 

Let's truck this here cotton, unload this ship, 
Boys, let's truck this cotton, unload this ship. 
'Cause when we finish I'm gonna look for my wench. 

You have to carry on, Buddy says, just as you are told to do in 
the Riverfront Toasts: 

When you tumble from the top, 

Keep agoin'. 

If the weather kills yo' crop, 

Keep agoin'. 

It's no need to sit and whine, 

If them fish ain't on yo' line, 

Bend yo' hook and keep atryin', 

But keep agoin'. 

'Pushfoot' Wiley offered this one: 

A hook on a cistern is boun' to rust, 

Lots of N' Awlins wimmen is hard to trust. 

If we two was like we three, 

We'd all git together an' then agree. 

A nickel is a nickel, 

An* a dime is a dime, 

The best work is on the riverfront, 

All the time. 

Negro longshoremen are always boasting of their women, 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

especially how much money they can get from them. This song 
typifies that particular spirit: 

You boys got wimmen, but mine is a honey, 
. The rich white mens they give her money. 
And jest like that she give it to me, 
That's why I'm sailin' like a ship on the blue sea. 
I got a pinch-back coat comin', 
Gonna walk down Rampart Street hummin', 
And I want it very plain to see, 
Don't want you black bastards talkin' to me. 
I'm gonna put on airs, 
Like that woman who makes her money hustlin' upstairs. 

Negro longshoremen say you have to be fast and alert to oper- 
ate on the riverfront, even in this era, though it isn't what it 
used to be. Yet, even today, it is a world of its own, with a 
language all its own. 'That talk you hear on the riverfront is 
junk talk that nobody but us can understand/ they'll tell you. 
'Where it come from I don't know.' 

Longshoremen either like a wag a sailor very much or 
they hate him. The types of ships docking at New Orleans have 
various names. A ship that crosses the sea is a deep-water ship, a 
coastwise vessel, a shallow-water ship. A dont-and-do ship sailing 
in Suicide Alley is the worst sort of ship to be on because that is a 
merchantman sailing in a war zone. Streamin means a boat is 
going upriver. Notches are miles. A rich shipper is always Mr. 
Rockefeller. Slicin time is saving time. To lay out is to take a few 
days off. You re out means you're finished for the day and you 
move on or go down the line. 

A drift is a beggar along the riverfront. To ride the tide is to 
take advantage of someone. A rabbit is a fellow who won't pay 
his bills, and to pay a bill is to lay it on the line. Hopped up refers 
both to drunks and to drug addicts. Hip the jive means to be care- 
ful of unnecessary talk. When a longshoreman wants to start 
an argument, he is told to go out to Perdido and Saratoga Streets 
where ' they talks that barroom talk. ' Two longshoremen angry 
with each other are at organheads together. The women who sell 
hot lunches, sandwiches, pies and doughnuts along the wharves 
are bucket women or pan ladies, because their wares are usually sold 

Riverfront Lore 

from buckets, huge flat pans or baskets. The food has fantastic 
names, too. Meat is bullneck, bread pudding is heavy devil, jelly 
doughnuts are elephant ears, stage planks are flat ginger cakes, and 
a nigger ' s lunch is a stage plank and a dipperful of river water. Any 
restaurant or saloon is a barrel house. 

A young man will gibe at an older one, saying, ' Old man, you 
is like a linen suit, out of season. ' When a man says another man 
is 'like the stars' he means he stays out all night. 

If a woman passes along the \vharves one longshoremen will 
say to another, 'Blow that twiff!' or 'Man, gun that broad!' or 
4 Pipe that business, boy!', all meaning the same thing ' Look 
at that woman's shape!' 

Carolina Slim is a poet, a wandering black minstrel, who sings 
of his own prowess constantly, as longshoreman, fighter and 
lover. Slim has a favorite composition, though; this one is 
about his girl, Agnes, he vows, but Agnes is not mentioned 
throughout the song, only The Titanic Ship, the title of the epic. 
This song he sings most tenderly, most passionately. 

'It's a long story,' Carolina says. 'When the Titanic sunk me 
and my baby was fightin'. When word come that the ship was 
down, she told me she didn't want me no more. Then after she 
gone and left me, I thunk up The Titanic Ship. It goes like this: 

I always did hear that the fif ' of May was a wonderful day, 
You believe me, everybody had somethin' to say, 
Telephones and telegraphs to all parts of town, 
That the great Titanic ship was a-goin* down. 

The captain and the mate was standin* on deck havin' a few words, 
'Fore they know it, the Titanic had done hit a big iceberg. 
Had a colored guy on there call Shine, who come down from below, 
And hollered, 'Water is comin' in the fireroom do'!' 

Shine jumped off that ship and begun to swim, 
Thousands of white folks watchin' him. 
Shine say, ' Fish in the ocean and fish in the sea, 
This is one time you white folks ain't gonna fool me!' 

There is lots more. Carolina Slim can sing a dozen or two 
verses. The hero, SKine, reaches land, and 

$74 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

There was thousands of people waitin' to shake his hand. 
Shine said, 'Push back, stand there and hear my pedigree. 
I don't want nobody messin' with me. 

'My pillow was an alligator and a boa-constrictor was in my den. 
I lived on the water and I didn't have to pay no rent. 
And I don't owe nobody a damn red cent. 
When the great Titanic in the river sank.' 

Carolina Slim calls himself a 'roamin' longshoreman,' but he 
is more a hobo than a worker. He boasts that he has the strength 
of three men, can do the wofk of three men. Most of the time he 
gets his money from women and he always invests it quickly 
in crap games. The women don't really mean anything to him, 
because he's always thinking about Agnes. He says he 'jest 
cain't stay put for long,' so he is a wandering minstrel. He sings : 

The boys in Wisconsin they take their time, 
They go to work to make eight and a dime. 
The boys in Chicago they gits a draf, 
They go to work to make eight and a half. 
The boys in Noo Yawk they oughta be rich, 
They go to work to make eight, six bits. 
The boys in Noo 'Leans they oughta be dead, 
They go to work for fish and bread. 

They'll work for the rich and they'll work for the poor, 

Will work for a man jest day long so. 

They'll work for Saint Peter and they'll work for Saint Paul, 

They'll be in Noo 'Leans workin' when the roll is called. 

And I ain't bluffin', 

I ain't gonna work for nothin*. 

And that's Carolina Slim's philosophy. 

Rooster Jim is well known on the riverfront. His foreman tes- 
tifies that Rooster, who is only five feet seven inches tall and 
weighs but a hundred and fifty pounds, never tires. Rooster will 
often work sixty hours on a stretch without stopping, and he 
keeps in good humor all the time, singing, shouting and laugh- 
ing as he labors, remaining at the end of the day as fresh and as 
strong as the hour he had started. And when Rooster is paid off, 

Riverfront Lore 

he doesn't trudge home to sink into exhausted sleep. Not then. 
Not with all his money. He receives as much as ninety cents an 
hour, with time and a half wages for overtime, and that's plenty 
of money in Rooster Jim's world. 

Rooster doesn't have any one home. While he works he sings 
about his woman, but he doesn't have any one woman, either; 
he has many women and any place there is one of these women, 
that is Rooster Jim's home. But even the women don't come 
first. As soon as he gets paid, he makes the rounds of the half- 
dozen bars he patronizes and at each he leaves five or ten dollars 
with the bartender. Then, with what is left he heads for a cer- 
tain hangout around the Basin Canal. There he works up a crap 

The dice roll until some woman who knows him comes along 
and coaxes him out of the game. He goes home with her, but 
only for a little love-making. As soon as this chore is over, 
Rooster is back at the dice game. Comes a second woman and the 
routine is repeated. About now, Rooster will probably decide to 
do a little drinking, so he'll drift around to the various bars 
where he has distributed money. Women punctuate the drink- 
ing, but they are of less importance. 

Bar after bar, woman after woman, it goes on, until at last he 
falls asleep in the arms of one of his women. Then he'll sleep for 
days. This is the lucky girl. If Rooster hasn't visited too many 
saloons, she's hit the jackpot. When he awakens she escorts him 
from bar to bar and collects the remaining cash. Next morning 
Rooster Jim is back on the wharf waiting for a ship to unload, 
and a job. 

To this day many Negro longshoremen cannot read and a ' flag 
system* for sorting is often used. Each man passes the sorter who 
taps the sack he 'totes' with a long stick. One tap means the 
sorter cannot see the mark; two taps that the bag must be tipped 
downward so the mark can be seen; three that the bag must be 
lifted higher. The rest of the code is just as simple. Instead of 
the firm's name being called, his flag is called: blue diamond, 
black heart, white ace, red cross, etc. The sack is then carried to 
the pile beneath that flag. 

Often longshoremen are out of work for long periods; then 

3 j 6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

when a ship comes in there is an eager cry of 'Come git hot! 
Money's to be made !' Gimme a head means to ask for aid in lifting 
a heavy load. Gimme a bumper means a lift onto a wagon. 

Oldtimers say that the Negro longshoremen and all life on the 
riverfront are not what they used to be. It's gone soft now, say 
they. In other days men were really men, yet the toughest of 
them all was a woman. 

Her name was Annie Christmas. She was six feet, eight inches 
tall and she weighed more than two hundred and fifty pounds. 
She wore a neat mustache and had a voice as loud and as deep as 
a foghorn on the river. The tough keelboatmen, terrors of the 
river in other days, stood in awe of her, and there wasn't a hulk- 
ing giant of a stevedore who didn't jump when Annie snapped 
her black fingers. She could lick a dozen of them with one arm 
tied behind her back, and they knew it. 

Most of the time Annie dressed like a man and worked as a 
man. Often she worked as a longshoreman, pulled a sweep or 
hauled a cordelle. She would carry a barrel of flour under each 
arm and another balanced on her head. Once she towed a keel- 
boat from New Orleans to Natchez on a dead run, and never got 
out of breath. 

Annie could outdrink any man in the South. She would put 
down a barrel of beer and chase it with ten quarts of whiskey, 
without stopping. Men used to buy her whiskey just to see her 
drink. Sometimes she got mad in a barroom, beat up every man 
in the place and wrecked the joint. Sometimes she did it for fun. 

Then, every once in a while, Annie would get into a feminine 
mood. When this happened she was really all of two hundred 
fifty pounds of coal-black female, really seductive and enticing in 
a super sort of way. At these times Annie would rent a barge, 
fill it with the best fancy women in New Orleans and operate a 
floating brothel up and down the Mississippi, catering to keel- 
boatmen and stevedores, river pirates and longshoremen. She 
would always stage contests, and offer a hundred dollars cash to 
the woman entertaining the most men satisfactorily in a given 
period of time. Of course, Annie was as magnificent amorously 
as she was as a fighter and drinker and she always won her own 
first prize. 

Riverfront Lore ^77 

She would really dress up for these occasions, wearing red satin 
gowns and scarlet plumes in her woolly hair. She always wore 
a commemorative necklace containing beads for all the eyes, 
ears and noses she had gouged from men, a bead for each one. 
The necklace was only thirty feet long, but then she only counted 
white men; there would not have been enough beads in New 
Orleans if she had counted Negroes. 

Annie had twelve coal-black sons, each seven feet tall, all born 
at the same time. She had plenty of other babies, too, but these 
were her favorites. Whenever she got ready to have a baby, she 
drank a quart of whiskey and lay down somewhere. Afterward 
she had another quart and went straight back to work. 

Finally Annie met a man who could lick her and then she fell 
in love for the first time in her life. But the man didn't want her, 
so Annie bedecked herself in all her finery and her famous neck- 
lace and committed suicide. 

Her funeral was appropriately elaborate. Her body was placed 
in a coal-black coffin and driven to the wharf in a coal-black 
hearse, drawn by six coal-black horses. Six on each side, 
marched her coal-black sons, dressed in coal-black suits. At the 
riverfront the coffin was placed on a coal-black barge, and that 
coal-black night, with no moon shining, her dozen coal-black 
sons floated on it with the coal-black coffin out to sea and van- 
ished forever. 

A century or more ago, seamen and keelboatmen, roustabouts 
and other wharf laborers had to be tough. The New Orleans 
riverfront was infested with saloons, gambling places and 
brothels of fabulously bad character. Bill Sedley, who staged 
many a history-making brawl, was typical of the period. Sedley 
was a six-foot-two keelboatman and as formidable a foe in a 
fight as he was skillful with a sweep. 

One night in 1812., Bill stomped out of the back room of the 
Sure Enuf Hotel, a saloon, gambling place and hotel run by two 
Mexican brothers, Rafe and Juan Contreas, with blood in his 

' I be danged,' Bill shouted, ' whether it's the whiskey or I seen 
right, but I'm a yellow bantam pullet if Rafe Contreas didn't 
deal a card from his sleeve.' 

5 7 <? Gumbo Ya-Ya 

'I'm a child of the snappin' turtle and was raised with pan- 
thers!' said Bill. Tm a child of the snapping turtle, I am!' 

He flung himself into the larger gaming room, shouting, 'I 
am a man, I am! I am a horse! I am a team! I am an alligator, 
half-man, half-horse. I can whip any man on the Mississippi, I 

Bill was well known. His temper was famous. His brawling 
ability was celebrated. The crowd in the Sure Enuf Hotel began 
to dwindle. In a few seconds Bill, Juan and Rafe were alone. One 
of the Mexicans bolted the doors. Outside the crowd pressed 
against them, listened at the windows. Furniture was heard 
crashing to the floor, there was the sound of smashing glass, and 
over it all Bill SedJey's boasting, 'I am a man, I am! I am a child 
of the snapping turtle, I am!' 

In a few minutes the doors swung wide, and Bill Sedley, 
hacked and bloody, but chest extended and head high, swag- 
gered forth. 

'Gentlemen,' he invited, 'walk in. The drinks are on the 
house! The American Eagle has lit on the Alleghenies again.' 

On the floor the two Mexicans lay dead. 

The 'broadhorns,' as the keelboats and flatboats were called, 
were the first to follow the explorers and missionaries down the 
broad waters of the Mississippi River, and their crews were 
rough giants who defined trouble as fun and fighting as recre- 
ation. They had a fantastic way of boasting of their prowess, 
always likening themselves to wild animals. In Remembrances of 
the Mississippi, an article in Harper s in December, 1855, the 
following example of this strange braggadocio is given: 

I'm from the Lightning Forks of Roaring River. I'm all 
man, save what is wild cat and extra lightning. I'm as hard to 
run against as a cypress snag. I never back water. Look at me 
- a small specimen harmless as an angleworm a remote 
circumstance a mere yearling. Cockle-doodle-doo ! I did 
hold down a buffalo bull, and tar off his scalp with my teeth, 
but I can't do it now I'm too powerful weak, I am, I'm the 
man that, single-handed, towed a broadhorn over a sandbar, 
and if anyone denies it, let him make his will and pay the ex- 
penses of a funeral. I'm the genuine article, tough as bullhide, 

Riverfront Lore 

keen as a rifle. I can out-swim, out- jump, out-drink, and keep 
soberer than any man at Catfish Bend. I'm painfully ferocious 
I'm spilin' for someone to whip me if there's a creeter in 
this diggin' that wants to be disappointed in tryin' to do it, 

let him yell whoop-hurra! 

,1 /ov. [ f fujg,eifl 3jjo H0q blub'j vrl 

James Girty, famous riverman, was reputed to have had a solid 
bone covering over his chest that knives and bullets could not 
penetrate, amazing strength and courage, and never to have been 

Then came the era of luxurious steamboats, gambling boats 
and pleasure boats, lavishly furnished and adorned, combining 
tons of gilt with elaborately carved wood and mother-of-pearl. 
Carpets were thick and rich, chandeliers always massive and of 
crystal, huge mirrors always framed in gilt or gold leaf. Only 
the brothels of this era outdid the steamboats in unrestrained 
decorativeness. And many of the people traveling on the steam- 
boats suited their surroundings. 

Mrs. Boland Leathers, captain of the fifth Natche^ and the 
only woman ever to be a Mississippi River captain, described the 
most notorious of all river gamblers, George Devol. 

' I knew him personally,' said Mrs. Leathers, ' the most notori- 
ous of them all. George Devol was a stout, florid-complexioned 
man, who though he was not exceedingly tall, created quite an 
impression. He was very talkative and was considered at the 
time a gentleman. He was dressed well, but toward the 'flashy 
side, and wore loud checked suits, fancy vests, loud cravats, and 
was actually a gentleman gambler. I was crazy about George 
Devol, in a purely platonic way, of course. One of the main 
reasons I went with him was that he used to buy me the most 
delicious chocolates 

' I guess he did cheat at times, but I should like to see the river 
gambler who didn't. I can remember him saying so plainly, in 
his soft, cultured voice, "Come on, Blanche, let's start a game 
and give them a ride. ' ' You see, I would start the game off, which 
was usually roulette, and this would attract other people, and 
when enough had gathered around and were playing I would 
slide out unnoticed. 

' I remember one time when he was going up on our boat. At 

2 8 o Gumbo Ya-Ya 

the same time there were a large number of Texas families on the 
boat who were going to Mississippi and the northern portion of 
Louisiana. He had just skinned one man in a game and natu- 
rally words followed and the man threatened to kill him. Before 
he could pull out his gun, Devol ran to the side of the ship. This 
particular Natcbe 1 ^ was a side-wheeler, and I can remember well 
we were just passing Port Adams. He jumped overboard just 
behind the wheels, shots flying fast and furious. They shot at 
the water but Devol remained under water and how he did it I 
never shall know, considering the current formed by the big side 
wheel. But he stayed under long enough until he was out of 
gunfire and finally swam ashore.' 

George Devol wrote his own story in forty, Years a Gambler on 
the Mississippi, a series of racy anecdotes detailing fights, swin- 
dles and escapes from those seeking vengeance. His head was ex- 
tremely hard and he could take a terrific amount of punishment, 
so, his favorite dodge was to let his opponent hit his head until 
his hands became so swollen and sore they were useless. Then 
he would finish the fight by butting ! 

Negro roustabouts had to take plenty of punishment in the old 
days. The captains and mates on the boats were a hard-boiled 
lot and of the conviction that the only way to make a Negro 
work was to be tough. 'Clubbing' was common, being done 
with a stout hickory stick or a barrel stave. When a longshore- 
man moved too slowly he was given a hard whack on his back. 
The laborers were fed rough food in tin pans and forced to eat 
with their fingers, it being considered unnecessary to provide 
them with knives and forks. 

Captain Fred Ketchum, nostalgic for these days, said: 'I'm 
here to tell you we had a better bunch of niggers working then 
than we have now. Sure we used to club them. We always used 
a thick hickory stick. Of course, some fellows used a barrel 
stave, but I always thought they were too thin and weak to hit 
a nigger with. Clubbing was usually done when a nigger got 
smart or worked too slow. You know, they're quick to take 
advantage. I never did fool with them, and they were scared to 
death of me. There were a few who tried to get smart, but I put 
them in their places. I killed five niggers. But don't get me 

Riverfront Lore 5 8 1 

wrong. I didn't kill them because I enjoyed it. It was abso- 
lutely necessary. They came after me with knives. There is only 
one way to treat a nigger and that is to be positive with him. 
In other words, if you are right, you are right, and if you are 
wrong, you are still right.' 

The story of the ' fricasseed nigger' is still told along the river- 
front though the incident occurred more than a century ago. 
An old Tennessee packet, according to this yarn, refused to budge 
from a wharf owing to the rusty condition of the machinery, 
and as was the custom the engineer sent a Negro down into the 
flywheel to give it a start. Next morning the passengers were at 
breakfast when suddenly there was a terrific noise, a convulsive 
motion of the boat and the breakfast table crashed to the floor. 
Then into the midst of the horrified travelers was projected the 
naked body of a Negro done to a crisp! The ladies fainted, the 
gentlemen rushed from the dining-salon. 

'What nigger is this?' bawled the furious captain at the top 
of his lungs. 

'Oh, that's only Jim!' cried the engineer, rushing in. 'That 
rascal must have gone to sleep in the flywheel. I plumb forgot 
he was there.' 

'Thank God it's Jim!' sighed the captain, mopping his brow 
with a handkerchief. ' I had him insured before I left Nashville. 
Here, boys, lend a hand and take him aft. I must see after the 

Negro roustabouts of other days had many queer superstitions. 
If gulls flew excitedly and in circles it was because they knew 
bad weather was coming; bad weather was also predicted if 
horses were seen running or jumping about on the levees. If the 
moon and stars reflected clearly in the water of the river, it fore- 
told the coming of fog. If all the stars came out at night, or if 
the sun showed a dark streak across it, rain was in the offing. 
Whenever a cloud appeared from the southwest, the roustabouts 
cried, 'Morgan's gonna take the lid off the well. Bat down the 
hatches!' Despite rain clouds all over the sky, one from the 
southwest came from Morgan's direction and it alone meant 
rain. The sex of a drowned person, it was believed, could easily 
be told at first observation. A man's body always floated face 
downward, a woman's face upward. 

382 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

The old roustabout would suffer a terrific amount of clubbing 
before he would work on a 'hoodoo* ship, which was any ship 
that had suffered some disaster. And if they did work on such a 
vessel it was only with the protection of the strongest gris-gris 
like lucky beans and rabbit's feet and horseshoes. 

In the steamboat days there were many strange remedies for 
illnesses and injuries suffered while working. If hooked by a 
catfish fin while fishing for their favorite sea food, they would 
smear the wound with what they called 'black oil,' which was 
the dirty oil from the engine room. The dirtier and blacker the 
oil the more potent it was considered to be. A tea was brewed 
from weeds growing along the river and was a ' cure-all' known 
as 'fever-tea.' This was consumed practically all the time, 
whether they suffered any fever or not. 

Early roustabouts were famed for their songs and their ' coon- 
jines.' The 'coonjine' was a rhythmic shuffle affected to ex- 
pedite loading and unloading; the songs were usually doleful, 
yet served to lighten their labors, often queer little songs like 

Markey Faye, 
Down the bay, 
What you say? 

This was sung by the 'screwmen.' Cotton bales were loaded 
by means of a boom, block and tackle and a 'heisting horse.' 
Once on the skid on its way to the hold of a ship the bale was 
taken in charge by these screwmen. In the small holds of old 
sailing vessels, every inch of space was valuable and as much cot- 
ton as possible had to be packed in. This was done by a process 
known as * screwing in cotton' and was much like raising a house 
with a jack. The screwmen would sing their little song as they 
screwed, and at the words Faye., bay, and say, all turned the 
screw together. 

Edward Ashley remembered this old song: 

I looked up river as far as I could see, 

No boat bio win* but the Cherokee. 

She roun' the bend loaded with men, 

She loaded with cotton, 

She want to get to town, 

To run the Robert E. Lee down. 

Riverfront Lore $8 $ 

' I saw the Robert E. Lee and the Natche^ when they made their 
big race,' Ashley says. 'I was down at Canal Street and saw the 
start. The riverfront was lined with people way back to Jackson 
Square j and as far as you could see. They thro wed wood and 
about two thousand boxes of salt meat in the fire to make steam. 
Everybody was excited and bettin' and nobody even pretended 
to work. It was like Mardi Gras. It sure was a great race.' 

The riverfront has always been home to many people. For 
practically all of New Orleans 's history there have been the folk 
who live under the wharves, usually termed 'wharf rats' by the 
police, who wage unceasing war upon them. 

As early as 1853 these under-the-wharf dwellings were already 
established. The first wharves were flimsy affairs, and no sooner 
were they built than the first wharf rat appeared. The Daily 
Delta of New Orleans on December 2.1, 1853, reported the dis- 
covery of such a home. The article entitled 'O Home!' states: 
4 An Italian woman who is quite young, and who had with her a 
most beautiful child, was yesterday found by some of the police 
officers under a wharf in this district. The woman had supplied 
herself by the thousand of those little appliances of knives, forks, 
provisions and clothing. The place was perfectly dry, the wharf 
above being heaped up with sacks of corn and covered with 
tarpaulins. Who shall say the Italian woman was not more con- 
tent in her wharf-roofed home than many of the proud daughters 
of the land who dwell in marble halls!' 

Many of the people who established temporary homes be- 
neath the wharves seem to have been thieves, pilfering from mer- 
chandise lying along the riverfront. Through the wide-spread 
wharf planks the thieves would slit sacks and drain the contents 
from below. For years the police broke up the homes regularly 
and systematically, but with little effect. 

As late as 1938 families were found beneath a section of the 
Mandeville Street wharf at New Orleans, evidently some of them 
Depression victims. Taciturn, they would speak to no one and 
nursed a bitter hatred of the 'damn police.' 

Back in 1877 ' Frank the Barber' set up a shop under the wharf 
at Nuns' Street. His chair was made of driftwood and the shop 
was decorated with the most diverting illustrations from the old 

Gumbo Y a-Y a 

"Police Gazette. Frank bragged of the coolest shop in town and 
charged regular prices. 

'I guess they'd call me a wharf rat,' confessed Bud Schroeder. 
'I've eaten, lived and slept on this riverfront ever since I was 
knee-high to a duck. It's different now, though, with all these 
new modern docks and wharves. Not like the good old days 
when the levees were like pretty green hills. I've earned my 
livin' all my life catchin' driftwood and sellin' it. There's no 
better way to make a livin* easy. The wood just kinda floats 
in to you. Sometimes I get as much as two dollars a load for fire- 
wood. I just go on the same way, year to year. Conditions and 
politics and wars don't bother me at all. And I don't have no 
expenses livin' on the river at all. No rent or lights or nothinV 

Outside of New Orleans, where the lights of skyscrapers are 
like tall candles against the sky, are Depressionvilles and batture 
settlements. Baton Rouge and other Louisiana river towns have 
similar colonies. Hovels, shacks, houseboats and tattered tents 
cluster in strange villages. Occasionally there is a neat cottage, 
with a flower garden. The people are a queer conglomeration, 
derelicts, tramps and beggars, petty thieves, sometimes an artist, 
always a fortuneteller. Many derive a livelihood from the river, 
fishing, catching driftwood to sell, rowing out in boats to col- 
lect bananas and such merchandise thrown from the ships. 
Others sometimes work in the nearest town. After a while they 
seem to grow to love the river. Some will not, if given the op- 
portunity, leave their makeshift homes. They never fear the 

4 It never comes up to the houses/ they'll tell you. ' Besides, if 
it does, we can always move to the other side of the levee until 
it goes down again.' And they will. If the temperamental Mis- 
sissippi threatens to flood them, they'll move temporarily. 
When the danger is past, they return. 

4 Ole Mississippi can be mean,' they'll tell you, ' and tease you, 
but he won't do you any real harm, if you handle him right.' 

Chapter 18 

Pallet Lane 

skirting along the edge of the Bayou St. John and extending back 
toward the rim of Lake Pontchartrain, lies Pailet Lane. You 
cross the railroad tracks at St. Bernard Circle, walk out Paris 
Avenue. The weeds are as high as your head and the sidewalk is 
only occasionally paved, sometimes bricked, but mostly just 
hard-packed earth. The houses here are small, but many of them 
are quite neat, some are even new, for this is the most prepos- 
sessing thoroughfare in all of Pailet Lane. 

A very stout, amazingly black Negress comes padding along, 
her bare feet slapping hard on the earth banquette, a gay pink-and- 
pea-green parasol held over her head. 

4 Pailet Lane?' She frowns, moves the parasol a bit to shade her 
face better. 'Pailet Lane? No, sir, I ain't never heared of that.' 
Then, 'Say! You doesn't mean Pellet Land? Lawd, sure! You 
is right in the middle of it.' 

An Italian grocer is equally as confused regarding the name of 
the section in which he lives. 

' Pailet Lane? Pellet Land? Mister, you must be trying to say 
like Pailetaville, eh? Sure, that is the name I call it, and that is 

$86 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

its name. I live here all my life, see? Is all the time call like 
Pailetaville. Where is the dump? Hell, they got lots of dumps 
back here. What you gonna cjo in a dump, eh?' 

Leaving Paris Avenue, there are no longer any paved or brick 
sidewalks, no longer any new little cottages, no longer any white 
faces. Walking toward the Bayou, unpainted shacks, widely 
scattered, are the rule rather than the exception. Consisting in 
most cases of two or three rooms, these are usually constructed 
of scrap wood, pieces of tin, discarded advertising signboards, on 
many of which the copywriters' messages to the public are still 
perfectly readable. There have been but halfhearted attempts at 
beautification, flowers bordering a few of the walks leading to 
the stoops before the houses. Too, a rare few have been provi- 
dent enough to attempt small truck gardens. But nothing seems 
completed or properly maintained. Laziness and weeds have 
defeated all such ambitions. One house, however, boasts a par- 
ticularly homey touch. On each side of the entrance is a wooden 
pig; on one pig's's body the name 'Ellen' is scrawled, on the 
other 'Steve.' Evidently they are the couple residing within. 

The populace of Pailet Lane is everywhere. Black bucks, most 
of them in overalls and blue jumpers, sprawl on the rude porches, 
many of them asleep. The women gossip comfortably in the 
shade of an occasional tree or over sudsy tubs of wash in neigh- 
boring backyards. Scarcely anyone wears shoes. Children run 

Not all Pailet Lane is settled. Walk a few blocks in any direc- 
tion and you'll run into vacant lots and fields. Here and there a 
cow or two graze; chickens forage through the weeds, run hap- 
hazardly all over the neighborhood. Grocery stores, a pool 
room or two, an occasional corner barroom, before which bare- 
footed black males loaf, about comprise the business of the 
neighborhood. But perhaps the enterprises most typical oi 
Pailet Lane are the dump piles and junk yards. 

Tall, black Blanche Jackson admits she is tough. Blanche is 
about twenty-five, usually wears a bright kerchief about her 
head, large hoop earrings, dirty print dresses and red shoes. She 
and her husband Joe are the proud owners of their own junk pile, 
in the center of which is a shack of their own creation. Before it 

Pailet Lane 

a fire burns in a large tar barrel covered with an iron grill, on 
which rests a bubbling pot of coffee. Blanche was busy this 
morning, arguing with a truck driver to prevent him from dump- 
ing a load of trash in her yard. 

' Hey, you!' Blanche yelled. ' Git that damn stuff in the back! 
Don't you dare try to unload in this road. Man, I'll bust your 
haid! Mr. Henry'll take care of you. Hey, Mr. Henry! Honest 
to Gawd! They drives up here and just stays put in the road and 
don't give a damn if nobody gits in or not.' 

Mr. Henry, a lean white man, appeared, directed the truck to 
the rear of the property. 

'That there is really a fine man,' Blanche explained. 'He 
can read and write and everything. Just down on his luck. He 
been sleepin' in that shack and watches at night. No, me and 
Joe ain't livin' here no more. We got us a house down past the 
school. Sure we been here a long time; ever since I married Joe. 
Poor Joe ! He sure had a hard time with me when we was first 
hooked. Every day I would cook him rice and potatoes and 
hard-boiled eggs. Couldn't and wouldn't cook nothin' else. Joe 
got tired of eatin' that stuff. He say, "Woman, I can't live on 
no bird food like this." Then I learned to cook real good. But 
Joe is always had a time. I sure is mean.' 

Blanche pulled a sweat-dampened package of cigarettes out 
of her bosom and lighted one. 

'Yes,' she went on, 'I is a mean woman. Mean and tough. I 
gets it from my pa's peoples; they was all mean as hell. I done 
been in the House of Good Shepherd for cuttin' a womans. I 
was only twelve years old then, too. See my sister had her a big 
fight with another gal and I was takin* up for her when a big 
black wench by the name of Octavia come buttin' in and say, "I 
gonna knock hell outta you, ' ' to me ! I told her she better not 
mess with me or she sure gonna git cut. Well, the next day I run 
right into her in front of a dago grocery near my house. 
"What you gonna do?" she said. 
"Bitch," I said, "you gonna leave me alone." 
"Don't you call me no bitch," she said. 
"That's 'xactly what you is," I said. 

"Jump in the gutter, nigger gal," she said. "We is gonna 

$88 GumboYa-Ya 

' I look and she picked up a rock. I done felt the breeze of that 
rock pass my ear. Je-sus! I seen red. I whipped out my razor 
and she start runnin'. Right behind her was me. I done cut her 
down. She screamed like hell and jumped into that dago grocery 
store and slammed the door plumb in my face. But I was satis- 
fied. I had done cut her seven times. Then the horse riders come 
and brung me to the House of Good Shepherd. I didn't care 
none. I had me a good time there. 

'I was only seventeen years old when Joe married me. He had 
done been married before, but his wife kicked him out for 
messin' round with the womens. I done told him when he mar- 
ried me he better not fool me that way. I just dared him to try 
it. I say, "I ain't gonna kick you out, me. I is gonna cut you 
up." He ain't never tried nothin' neither, 'cause he knows the 
first time I catches him he is a daid nigger. Hell, I'm mean and 1 
knows my wifely rights. 

' There is only one thing in the world I is scared of and that is 
voodoo peoples. No, sir, I don't monkey with no voodoo 
peoples. There got one woman named Lala lives on Governor 
Nicholls Street. She'd scare you just to look at her. I remem- 
bers when I was a little girl there was a woman I knowed called 
Aunt Laura. She was real old and one day she took sick in her 
laig and went and seen that Marie Laveau. This Laveau woman 
boiled up a lot of snakes and made her a powder and put that 
there powder all over Aunt Laura's laig. Do you know that 
after that you could see the snake crawl from her foot up to her 
belly under the skin? Then the poor soul started to vomit snails. 
A sore come on her laig and it got so bad them maggots was 
just droppin' off it on the floor. When she died they didn't em- 
balm her and when she was layin' in her coffin you could hear 'a 
frog croakin' in her throat. Ever since then I been scared of 
voodoo peoples.' Blanche spit on the ground, crossed her 

A few minutes later Blanche was singing, her high, sweet 
voice chanting the words of a spiritual 'The Shepherd' her 
face lifted toward the bright blue sky, eyes closed. Her small 
sister, a slight, black eleven-year-old named Rosalie, joined her 
in the song. 

Pailet Lane 38 g 

'I sings in the choir at my church,' Blanche admitted. 'The 
preacher thinks he knows music, and he says I can really sing. 
He wanted to raise money from the congregation to send me up 
to Major Bowls, that radio man, but I wouldn't let him. I'd 
just giggle like a fool and be scared. I likes to sing here around 
my dump pile when I is busy, though. Sometimes you can hear 
me for miles. Even if it ain't good singin', it sure is loud. They 
got some fine peoples out here, 'specially Saint Ann Johnson and 
Mother Duffy. Them is really fine peoples what has the spirit. 
Sure, Rosalie knows where they lives at.' 

En route to Saint Ann Johnson's house, Rosalie contributed a 
brief history of Pailet Lane. 

4 Yeah,' she said, 'all this is Pailet Lane. 'Course, I ain't sure 
of nothin' much, but my aunt says it was named for a man called 
Pailet. He daid now, but they say he owned all this land with 
another man named Smith and a womans named Miller. My 
Aunt Sallie moved out here in 1914. and there wasn't no houses 
but four shacks. Then Mr. Pailet built some places and people 
started movin' in. I done heared he got as much as six hundred 
dollars for some of his places. 

' Be careful ! You'll slip in that mud and be a mess. You know 
the Government is buildin' some slums down here. Yes, sir. 
They builds good-lookin' slums, too. And the City is puttin* in 
sewerage. It sure gonna all be fine when they gits done foolin' 
around. I been told them Government slums is gonna hold seven 
hundred and thirty-eight families. My Aunt Sallie knows every- 
thing about everything in Pailet Lane. See, she done lived here 
longer than anybody what 's here now. She helped build the 
first church and she put up the first dollar for buildin' the Saint 
John Baptist Church Number 5 . Now there is the Fairview Bap- 
tist Church and the Azure Baptist Church Number i and the 
Azure Baptist Church Number -L and one Catholic Church called 
Saint Raymond's. All them churches just in Pailet Lane. It sure 
is nice.' 

Saint Ann Johnson is about seventy-five years old. Her eyes 
are bad, but she says her ' remember ' is still very good. Her small 
kitchen is neat, clean and warm. 

'I was borned right here in Pailet Lane,' Saint Ann said, 'but 

2 p o Gumbo Ya-Ya 

I left when I was a little girl. My ma reared me on the plan- 
tation where she went to work. They sure was good to us, too. 
I don't like city life for nothin'. No, I cain't remember the Civil 
War. 'Course Pa used to tell us stuff. There was good folks and 
bad folks same as now. I guess it's always been like that. Some 
peoples was mean to their niggers. Sure. They would take a 
pregnant woman and lay her on the ground with a hole dug 
underneath her to hold her belly. Then they'd lift her dress and 
beat her with a whip on her nekkid skin. 

'Then I remembers Elizabeth Stokes. She didn't have no 
teeth, and Pa told me she used to have the prettiest white teeth 
of anybody he ever seen, and her face was so black they'd shine 
like pearls. Well, Pa didn't know why, but every day at 'xactly 
twelve o'clock her master would take her to the blacksmith's 
shop, put her haid down on an anvil and knock out one of her 
teeth s just one. He done that every day until they was all 

'Pa had two wives, you know. They didn't make him take 
'em. He just done it 'cause he liked 'em. No, I don't believe in 
that neither. 

'I tell you what I does believe in singin'. I sure does like 
singin'! Sometimes I sings until I gits to cryin', and that's the 
truth. And sure as I does I hears somebody is daid. I tell you 
when they gits to singin' at a baptizin' sure Fse a Baptist I 
just plain loves it. I was baptized when I was a little girl. The 
old preacher had to tote me out in the water, and all the peoples 
was standin' on the bank singin' their hearts out with 

On the rough, rocky road, 
Fse most done travelin', r r? , 
On the rough, rocky road, 
To my Lawd; 
On the rough, rocky road, 
I'se most done travelin', 
Got to carry my soul 
To my home. 

'Then they all joined hands and singed together and stepped 
around kind of fancy while they singin', 

Pailet Lane j p i 

My sister, in the Lawd, 
I'se most done travelin', 
On the rough, rocky road, 
To my Lawd; 
My sister, in the Lawd, 
I'se most done travelin', 
I'se had to carry my soul, 
To my Lawd. 

4 After that the preacher said some prayers. Then he said, "I 
baptize you in the name of Jesus." I come up out of the water 
hollering, "Look at the gold! Look at the gold!" The sky 
above me was just like gold. I seen it! One woman got so ex- 
cited she walked right plumb out on the water and her feets 
didn't even sink. She strutted around on top of that water, 
shoutin' all the time, "Look at Jesus! Look at Jesus!" 

'You know you gotta have faith. Just singin* for you has 
made me feel better. 

Who die in Jesus' arms, 
Honor the Lamb, 
Who die in Jesus' arms, 
Honor the Lamb. 

' No, I don't believe much in spirits and all them things. They 
still talk about that Marie Laveau. Once when I was a little girl 
I went to her house with my sister. She had boxes sittin' all 
around the place with chicken wire over the tops of 'em. Honest 
to the Lawd, them things was full of snakes. I keeps away from 
peoples like that. There is too many bad spirits around to go 
lookin' for more. 

'Sure, there's good luck things and bad luck things. That's 
different. Only I don't believe in them all. One time I walked 
into a lady's house and walked out the back way. She says, 
"You can't do that to me, Saint Ann. That's bad luck." And 
she was always mad at me after that. Lots of peoples around 
here won't clean their houses or change their curtains during 
August 'cause they thinks that's bad luck. One time a man comes 
around here with a Bible. He put a key in it and says to me, 
"Make a wish and if this here Bible turns over when you turn 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

that key you sure gonna git your wish." Well, he takes one end 
of the key and I takes the other. He was sure tryin' to make 
that Bible turn over, but I held it so tight he couldn't do it. I 
knows I don't believe in nothin' like that. What I likes is 

Shake hands and good-bye, 

Fse bound to follow my Jesus, 

Shake hands and good-bye, 

Fse goin' home.' 

Which might have been construed as an invitation to leave. 

Mother Duffy was sitting in the sunshine before her house. 
She was a large woman with snowy hair edging from under her 
red and white tignon and white whiskers on her round black face. 

' You sure catched me on a bad day, yes!' Mother Duffy, like 
many Louisiana Negroes, speaks with a slight 'Gombo' accent. 
'I tell you that. I had me a smotherin' spell this mornin' and I 
don't feel no good yet. I don't know how old I is. They never 
did teach us nothin' about that. They just teached us to work. 
Yes, Gawd! I done remembers when the Yankees come. All my 
folkses was slaves on the Camille Plantation. Sure, they was 
good to us. One of them Yankee soldiers says to me, "Little 
girl, ain't you glad to leave here?" I says, "No, I ain't. I don't 
never want to leave here, me." He look at me like I was crazy. 

'Yes, I chews tobacco. Don't be 'fraid. I won't spit on you. 
I can spit clean across the banquette, me. 

'I lives here with my boy Andrew and his wife. He works in 
the City Park for that W.P.A. He's a real good boy, him. This 
mornin' when I had that smotherin' spell, he git up and lit me a 
fire and made me my hot sweet water. He wouldn't go to work 
until I told him I felt all right. If I go I pray the good Lawd to 
look after my boy. I worry about this cold weather. If he die 
first I sure won't be long behind. I'm gonna make him git me 
some hog's hoofs and make some tea. That's the best thing for 
pneumonia. And if you ever gits the earache, don't put on no 
oil, no. You just split a pod of garlic and wrap it up in cotton so 
it won't burn you none and stick it in your ear. It sure is good.' 

Albertine Taylor operates a beauty parlor in Pailet Lane. 
Albertine is herself a walking advertisement for her own skill; 

Pailet Lane 


her fingernails are long and scarlet, her hair straightened and 
gleaming with brilliantine, and her extremely stout body is 
always clothed in the most colorful garments. But today she 
was in bed, being nursed through an indisposition by her mother, 
Sister Lydia Lee. 

'Albertine has her hairdressing business/ Sister Lydia said, 
' and she's doing real good, but she was borned to be a mission- 
ary. She got her call, but she just ain't followed it yet.' 

'Seven years ago when I was real sick,' Albertine explained, 
' I had been in bed a long time and on this morning I had terrible 
pains. My mother was in the kitchen making coffee and my 
husband was sleeping in the bed. I got up and stood by the win- 
dow for a while and a voice said right in my ear, ' ' Albertine, if 
you want to come home, come. But if you want to stay and do 
my work, you can stay." Just like that. 

'I looked at my husband. It couldn't be his talking I had 
heard; he was asleep. Right then I started to weep, 'cause I 
knowed who it was. It wasn't nobody but the Holy Ghost Him- 
self! The Holy Ghost had revealed Himself to me! I started 
praying. I wanted to shout that good news. Then two ladies 
come in. I told them I would live to do Jesus' work. 

' A few days after that I said to myself, ' ' When I get through 
what I'm doing, I'm going to eat my cabbage and drink my 
beer. ' ' I always loved my beer. But when I is in the kitchen and 
I starts to open a bottle of beer, a voice pops in and says, "Alber- 
tine, how're you going to do My work and drink beer? You for- 
got your promise." Then I stood up on my feet, and I cried, 
"No, I ain't, Lord! No, I ain't! I'm sorry, Lord. I'll never 
touch no beer again." And I ain't, neither. That was more 'n 
seven years ago, and there was plenty whiskey here Christmas 
time, but I didn't touch a drop of the stuff. I don't even want to 
look at it.' 

Someone knocked at the door. Sister Lydia called out, ' Papa! 
Hey, Papa! Go open that door, please.' 

Papa emerged from another room, crossed to the door. He 
was a boy of fourteen, one of Albertine's children, whom every- 
one called by that nickname. He opened the door, two women 

5 9 4 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

'Get chairs from the other room, Papa/ Sister Lydia in- 
structed the boy. ' How you all feeling? Albertine's much better 
today. Yes, indeed. See how she's watching the clock? We has 
prayers here every day at this time; you know. Papa, get some 
newspapers for the ladies to kneel on. Wait a minute, Mildred, 
honey. You'll dirty your dress. Papa, get your Book.' 

Papa returned with a worn and shabby Bible. Everyone knelt. 

1 The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want . . . ' In a still 
childish treble, Papa read the whole of the Twenty-Third 
Psalm. Then he said the Lord's Prayer. 

After that they all prayed, Sister Lydia, Albertine and the two 
visitors, Sister Laura and Mildred. Mildred prayed loudest and 
she would punctuate the others' prayers with 'Hear us! Oh, 
hear us, Lawd!' 

Back at the dump pile, a week later, Blanche was behind a 
large pile of papers and bottles and broken glass. She had a 
large rake and was tearing down the pile, sorting out the good 
bottles to sell, breaking the others into bits. Today she was 
wearing a faded blue dress, a large sun hat and shoes through 
which her naked toes showed. 

' You sure catched me workin ',' she said. ' You know, they is 
about to ruin me. Ever since they closed that road over there, 
I been havin' to stand for 'em stoppin' at three other dumps 
before they gits to me. How the hell I'm gonna make a livin' 
this way? I hates them Public Service trucks not comin' worse 
than any of the others. Them is the trucks what brings the dirt 
swept out of the buses, and I used to always find my carfares in 
that dirt. Peoples drops change in buses, you know. Now I just 
gotta put out my own money since Mr. Public Service don't come 
here no more. 

' I tell you the truth, today I is really out of my mind! I gotta 
move, you know. It's on account of 'em buildin' them new Gov- 
ernment slums. If I don't move soon them horse riders is gonna 
come move me. It ain't really the Government makin' me git 
out, though. It's the Board of Health. The Health mens don't 
like the stink and they say my dump'll cause lices. If they'd just 
give me time I could git all this junk together and make me a 
little somethin', but they ain't givin' me time to do nothin'. 

Pailet Lane 

You ought to come back out here on a Sunday. Come see our 
church. We has a fine time.' 

Sunday night in Pailet Lane was dark and quiet. There are 
no street lights and little electric lighting in the houses. Lamps 
flickered palely in the windows. Under a bulb suspended before 
a grocery a group of Negro boys were on their knees. From the 
group came shouts of ' Come, seven !' ' Little Joe, come to Papa !' 
'Baby needs shoes!' 

The Fairview Baptist Church is very crude and very small. 
There is a stove to one side; the long wooden benches are painted 
a dull gray. On the pulpit were more wooden benches, a piano 
and a preacher. The Reverend Strudwick is small and lean and 

1 ,<vV OJJ ti 1 

'If you plants a seed,' intoned the Reverend, 'what's it 
gwine do?' 

The congregation answered as one, 'Grow!' 

4 'Course it's gwine grow,' agreed the preacher. ' Then what's 
it gwine do?' 


' 'Course it is,' said the little man on the pulpit. 'It's gonna 
bloom and bear fruit and that's what we wants. If you plants the 
seed of the Lawd Christianity in your hearts, it's bound to 
grow, too, ain't it? It's gwine bear fruit, too.' 

Reverend Strudwick took a breath. 

' Now, then,' said he. ' You cain't grow the seed of Christian- 
ity without pain. Look at Job. He was a rich man and he denied 
his Gawd and he losted every thin', even his son. Then he 
planted the seed of real Christianity in his heart, and still he kept 
get tin' sick, gettin' blind. The Devil came and tempted him 
sore, but he say, "No!" His wife say, "Deny Gawd!" He still 
say, ' ' No !" Then he say, ' ' There's only one thing. I wishes the 
day I was borned was never on no calendar." You ain't never 
seen no thirtieth of February, is you? You know you ain't. 
And that's why.' 

The door in the rear of the church opened and Blanche Jackson 
came up the aisle. She was almost unrecognizable in a polka dot 
silk dress, bright blue shoes, a flaming red straw hat set jauntily 
on her head and a bag to match the hat. She smiled widely and 
every gold tooth gleamed. 

^ p 6 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Reverend Strudwick announced, 'We is closin' this meetin' 
now. Sister Blanche Jackson has a guest who has come to hear 
us sing.' 

The pianist struck a few bars and the choir rose and sang, 

Oh, they tell me, yes, they tell me, 
Of an uncloudy day . . . 

Throughout the song, seated on a bench at one side, the Rev- 
erend punctuated with such remarks as 'Oh, yes!' and 'Bless us 
all!' or 'Hallelujah!' 

The entire congregation rose and joined in the last chorus. 

Then Blanche sang a 'ballad,' 

I'll go, yes, I'll go ... 

Her voice was low and sweet, untrained, of course, but rich 
with feeling. And as an ending she ad libbed, 

In our midst is a stranger, 
I'll go, yes, I'll go... 

Leaving the church and walking back through Pailet Lane, 
the night was darker than ever. There was no moon and most of 
the lights in the little houses had been extinguished. Even the 
boys in front of the grocery store had vanished. Now only in- 
sects circled the lonely, still burning electric bulb. Except for a 
few church-goers straggling homeward, Pailet Lane slept. 

Chapter 19 

Mother Shannon 

she knows it. She'll tell you: 'I is married to Jesus. Minor 
Shannon died one month before my little girl was born, and I 
ain't looked at anybody since.' 

Clad in a robe of brocaded golden satin, with filmy veil to 
match, or, on other occasions, in virginal white, also with veil 
to match, Mother Shannon prays and preaches, heals, and 
prophesies. Like all leaders of the Spiritualist Church of the 
Southwest, she has been instructed in all four of these difficult 
arts. And Mother Shannon prays and preaches and heals and 
prophesies with all the vigor of her huge, three-hundred-pound 
body. Before you see her in action you may arrive at the errone- 
ous conclusion that she- is a rather indolent and phlegmatic per- 
son; she is very fat and has the sort of heavy-lidded eyes that 
might add sultry appeal to a glamour girl, but which, unfortu- 
nately, only make Mother Shannon look sleepy. However, this 
is deceptive, for when she steps before her congregation to con- 
duct her services, she gives her all. When she prays, she prays 
hard and passionately. When she preaches, it is stirring and 
thorough and loud. She sways and jerks and shudders, and 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

sometimes, completely overcome with the spirit, she bends for- 
ward, until her hands almost touch the floor, and lets loose a 
shriek, and has to be lifted and put back together again. 

You never doubt her sincerity. It is apparent in those sleepy 
brown eyes, in her loosely fitted, thick-lipped mouth, in the 
tenseness of her clasped hands. And whether you believe in her 
or not, when you're away from her, you believe while you watch. 

Even when others take charge, while she sits on her throne 
beneath the electrically illuminated cross on the wall at the 
front of her church, you forget the others and look at Mother 
Shannon sitting there, sometimes with eyes closed, lips mum- 
bling, head nodding, sometimes glancing shrewdly at the con- 
gregation, those heavy-lidded eyes shifting from one face to 

The St. Anthony's Daniel Helping Hand Divine Chapel, 
branch of the Spiritualist Church of the Southwest, is at 2.139 
St. Ann Street in New Orleans. The building is a modest cot- 
tage, with most of the lower floor devoted to the chapel; one 
whole side with walls torn down between the rooms is the 
chapel proper; on the other side is an anteroom from which the 
church dignitaries may enter, and where they may rest or arrange 
their regalia. Behind this is a bedroom, which also seems to 
serve as a dressing room for visiting ' mothers' and others. There 
is a small kitchen behind the chapel. 

The chapel walls are adorned with a multitude of holy pic- 
tures; plaster statues of saints are everywhere. The walls are 
painted white, but are almost hidden by the pictures and by 
strips of pink and white crepe paper. Crepe paper also is strung 
across the ceiling, festoon-fashion, gathered here and there in the 
center, and draping out to the walls. Wooden chairs and 
benches are lined before the altar, with a single aisle between. 
In the center of the aisle is an ancient and much-used piano and 
an old-fashioned revolving stool. The altar stands at front, to 
one side; and on it are innumerable objects: statues, pictures, 
candles, votive lights. Facing the congregation are more 
statues and pictures and candles, the illuminated cross (the gift 
of a white truck-driver whom Mother Shannon cured of ' nerv- 
ousness'), Mother Shannon's throne, and a table, covered with 

Mother Shannon 

white cloth, holding more statues, candles, and votive lights. 

Most of these objects and decorations are borrowed from the 
Roman Catholic Church, such borrowing being a common prac- 
tice among New Orleans' Negro churches. But Mother Shan- 
non's chapel has some things of mysterious origin. For in- 
stance, beside the crucifix on the wall behind her throne hangs 
the ' Key to Heaven . ' This is a large, gilded key, decorated with 
a bow of ribbon. 

Mother Shannon says she has led her church for about eighteen 
years, though the chapel has been at its present address for only 
about three years. But her spiritual life began when she was 
fourteen years old. * A vision of a child appeared to me in spirit,' 
she says. 'I know this child was a spirit because I could tell it 
come from Heaven. I had a feeling then that I was gifted. Right 
then I started preaching about Christ off and on, but not steady 
like now.' She didn't preach 'steady' until her husband died. 
'I was given a sign before he passed. He ain't been sick or 
nothing then, but he was just laying on the bed and I seen a 
spirit pass over him. I just went out and told people "Minor is 
dead." And when they looked he was dead.' 

Besides healing the sick souls and sick bodies, Mother Shan- 
non's chapel does charitable work among the poor in her neigh- 
borhood. 'Don't make no difference what, color they is,' she 
says, 'if they is poor they gets aid. Christmas time we gives 
away toys and dollars and baskets of food. We has our altar on 
Saint Joseph's Night just like the 'talian people, and we gives 
away all our food to everybody what comes . ' 

Two days before Saint Joseph's Night, sitting in her kitchen, 
dressed in an ordinary checkered house dress, her head without 
its usual veil, Mother Shannon stirred at the contents of the 
large pot in her lap, and talked. 

' It been fourteen years now I been having my Saint Joseph 
Altar. That day I started out with thirty dollars to pay my rent 
and I met Saint Joseph and he told me to take the money and 
make a Saint Joseph Altar. I was scared I never would get my 
rent together again. I'm a poor widow woman and sometimes 
I gets up and there ain't a cent in the house. Still, I got faith, 
so I built me the altar,' 

400- Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Mother Shannon turned to Reverend Clothilde Davis, her as- 
sistant, and ordered briskly: ' Sister Davis, you better take a look 
in the oven at that cake. I can smell it!' Then she resumed her 
chatter. ' Sure, I've cured lots of peoples in my time. I was real 
sick myself once, and nobody thought .I'd live. So I just went 
in the bathroom and talked to God. I said : ' ' God, I'm not ready 
to leave this world. You need me here to do your work. And 
I'm here, ain't I?' ' Child, I just love to talk about Jesus. I swear, 
I get so happy ! See how I can beat these eggs now? 

fc There was a man come here and he was sick. His legs was so 
stiff when he sat down they stuck out in front of him like they 
was made of wood 'stead of meat. I prayed for him and he was 
cured. He say to me, "Thank you, Mother Shannon!" I say, 
"Don't thank me! Say 'Thank you, Jesus!' Just keep saying, 
'Thank you, Jesus!'" Child, look how good I can beat these 
eggs! I gets so happy when I talks about Jesus!' 

Removing the cake from the oven, Sister Davis muttered, 
' Amen, Mother!' In the chapel, up on a stepladder, hanging cur- 
tains for the Saint Joseph's Night celebration, a young Negro 
hollered toward the kitchen, 'Listen, Mother! Hallelujah!' 

'All my statues and pictures and everything I got,' continued 
Mother Shannon, 'was donated by people what have received 
divine help. I got, twenty, what I calls really good members, 
the kind that don't forget to give to their church. .You got to 
give to your church, so the church can give. Do you know we 
gives away ten baskets of food every month? Last Christmas 
we gave away a hundred. That's besides all the toys we makes. 
We makes dolls with pearl buttons for eyes, and doll furniture 
out of old crates, stuffed animals made of calico, and all sorts of 
things.' Mother Shannon exhibited a stuffed something which 
she said was going to be a chicken when it was finished. 

'God sure has been good to me,' she said. 'Like about my 
daughter. When she was little I asked God to give me the 
power to send her to any school she wanted to go to, and to let 
her be anything she wanted to be. Now she's going to Loyola 
in Chicago, studying to be a dietician. You know I lived in 
Chicago for' twenty years.' Mother Shannon beat her eggs. 
'Come see my altar on Saint Joseph's Night. We sure have a 
crowd, and everybody gets a plate.' tsrh. 

Mother Shannon 4 o 2 

The chapel was packed with people Saint Joseph's Night; they 
poured in and out of every door. Freshly-starched lace curtains 
hung at the windows, and the small anteroom, usually used for 
a dressing room, held the Saint Joseph's Altar. Here walls and 
ceiling were entirely covered with white sheets, and the altar, 
taking up half the room, was literally concealed under platters 
and plates and bowls of food, most of it identical with that 
found on the altars in Italian homes of New Orleans on that 
occasion. There were the immense loaves of Italian bread - 
most of them shaped like rings the Italian salads and seed 
cakes. There were shrimp and stuffed crabs and a huge lobster, 
and a hundred other kinds of foods. Missing were the pigolate 
and the redfish, always associated with Italian altars. In the 
front center was a cake baked in the form of an open book, 
covered with white icing and embellished with the following 
words in pink icing: 'Come thou with us, and we will do thee 
good; for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel.' There 
were the usual' tall candles, decorated with pictures of angels 
and rosebuds. A big wooden ring above the altar bore the 
inscription 'Daniel Helping Hand Divine.' 

Opposite the altar, on a mantel, were votive lights and smaller 
candles, and a box to receive offerings. A white ntan entered, 
stood before these, said a prayer, and dropped a coin into the 
box. On the altar, a white bowl also received money. Another 
contained Saint Joseph's beans, and those dropping coins took a 
bean or two. 

Mother Shannon appeared from the bedroom in the rear, and 
tonight she wore her golden robe of heavy, brocaded satin, with 
bright glass buttons down the front, and long full sleeves gath- 
ered at the wrist by a tight band. The full skirt touched the 
floor, and a yellow cord was fastened about her huge waist. 
Every dignitary of the Spiritualist Church of the Southwest 
wears this cord. It is the power. A veil of yellow crepe was 
gathered about her head and hung to the middle of her back. 

A photographer took Mother Shannon's picture. She was 
very shy during this procedure, grinning sheepishly and drop- 
ping her already droopy lids. Sister Davis, short and stout, with 
protruding, jagged and yellowed teeth, appeared in a costume of 

402 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

white silk and a white veil, with a big pearl brooch at her 

After the pictures everyone entered and took seats in the 
chapel, and Johnny Jones, a natty young Negro in a gray tweed 
suit and a maroon tie and breast pocket handkerchief, took a 
seat at the ancient piano and struck a few chords. Everyone rose 
as a procession of visiting Mothers came slowly up the aisle, 
headed by Mother Shannon. There were at least nine of these 
leaders, and each wore a robe and veil of a different color; there 
was blue, green, white, and black. This over, Mother Shannon 
took a seat in her armchair the throne and bid Sister Davis 
start the services. Another sister, also in white, had been left 
as a sort of hostess in the anteroom, and as the congregation be- 
gan singing 'It's That Old Time Religion,' she could be seen 
doing little 'trucking' steps. More than once Mother Shannon 
shot her a reproving glance through the door between the rooms. 

After that hymn, Mother Shannon rose and spoke, quietly, 
but authoritatively : ' If you has come here with Jesus in your 
hearts,' she said, ' you will receive the help you seek, but if there 
are doubters among you, you will be cast out.' She then looked 
silently from face to face in the congregation for a minute, and 
everybody followed her eyes, but no one was 'cast out.' 

Now she turned her back to the congregation, facing the elec- 
tric cross, and offered the Lord's Prayer, in which everyone 
joined. Turning again, she said: 

'One of our dear brothers has just departed from our midst, 
Brother Thomas, and it has made us sad indeed. But we know 
God was ready for him and we all must be ready for the call.' 
There were ' Amens' and 'Hear it!' and 'That's right, Mother!' 
from the congregation. 

'Tonight,' said Mother Shannon, 'we is greatly honored by 
having Sister Roxanna Moore with us. Roxanna Moore was 
with me at my first Saint Joseph's feast, and tonight is our four- 
teenth feast for him. I am going to turn this meeting over to 
Sister Davis, like I said before. Sister Davis has been with me 
eight years. She is a good woman and I know her words will be 
a blessing to all of us. ' Then, with great dignity, Mother Shan- 
non made an exit into the anteroom, where the altar was located. 

Mother Shannon 403 

The Reverend Davis addressed the congregation briefly, then 
she introduced Sister Roxanna Moore, a short, plump, elderly 
Negress, who, instead of the robe and veil worn by most of the 
Mothers, wore a neat black and white street dress and a black 
hat. Roxanna Moore proved to be an eloquent and impressive 
speaker. She spoke long and loud and pounded at the air with 
one black fist until the chapel vibrated with the congregation's 
'Amens' and 'Hallelujahs.' 

' I was here fourteen years ago when Sister Shannon give her 
first altar,' she said. 'It wasn't easy for her, and it ain't easy 
now. I hesitated to come here tonight. I should have done been 
here two days ago, but the weather was so bad I put it off. And 
now I is glad and I is happy I done come. I hated to come just 
in time for the feast, without doing no work, but now I is glad 
and I is happy. 

' Sister Shannon has come far. And it ain't been easy for her. 
Don't you all get no idea it's been easy for her. I told her years 
ago she was gonna be a great leader, and she is! Today she is 
bigger in every way than she was fourteen years ago. Her feast 
is bigger; her flock is bigger; everything is bigger! And I want 
Sister Shannon to go on and grow bigger and bigger and lead the 
way for all you sisters and brothers. 

'I loves Jesus. You know,' and here her voice softened and 
took on an affectionate and tender tone, ' sometimes I goes into 
my room and I is alone. I shuts my door and turns on the light, 
and there is Jesus. Jesus comes to me, and He takes me in His 
arms, and we is alone. He spreads a table and we dines. You 
all is gonna dine with Jesus some day!' Now Roxanna Moore 
began to sing 'Come and Dine' and the congregation took it up, 
until everyone was singing, without accompaniment from 
Johnny Jones, who still sat at his piano, staring into space. 
They sang with the infectious rhythm only Negroes can achieve : 

Jesus has a table spread, where the saints of God is fed, 
He invites His chosen people: Come and dine! 
With His manna He doth feed, an' supply every need, 
It's sweet to sup wit' Jesus all the time. 

40 4 ~ Gumbo Ya-Ya 


Come an' dine, the Master's callin', come an* dine! 
You may feast at Jesus' table all the time. 
With His manna he doth feed an* supply every need, 
Oh, it's sweet to sup wit' Jesus all the time! 

There were at least twenty verses and choruses. When they 
were finished Roxanna Moore resumed her spirited address. 
' Some day we is all gonna feast with the Lord, I say. We all got 
our robes on, ain't we? Look at me. I'm seventy-five years old, 
and I'm ready any time. 'Course I hopes to live awhile yet. But 
I is ready any time. Look at my hair.' She removed her hat, 
and her hair was gray in places, a change which occurs only in 
Negroes of great age. ' I is white-headed ! I say to Jesus : ' ' Look, 
Lord, I'm gettin' hoary! " Yes, I is ready when my time comes! 
I is ready to sit down at His feast any time!' 

After Sister Moore resumed her seat, Sister Davis began a song, 
simply by opening her mouth and emitting the first line, and the 
room took it up. Then there were prayers, some led by Mother 
Shannon, when she re-entered the chapel, then more songs, a 
piano solo by Brother Johnny Jones, more songs. During all 
this a young Negro entered and took a seat on a chair near 
Mother Shannon, carefully tying a gray silk cord about his 
waist the power and it was passed from ear to ear that he 
was a 'traveling missionary.' Later he led the congregation in 
a prayer, then a song. About midnight, all filed into the ante- 
room, to the Saint Joseph's Altar for food, everyone holding a 
paper plate and helping themselves to whatever they pleased 
from the delicacies on the altar. Many persons entered from the 
street and also ate. Whatever was left would be given away the 
day following if there was anything left. 

'Come back in July and see my Ordination services,' Mother 
Shannon invited, with a big smile and a friendly fluttering of 
her heavy eyelids. 

Invitations were sent out for the Ordination, in gold letters. 
They read : 

Mother Shannon -405 

' AND He said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach 

the gospel to every creature.' MARK 16:15 

The honor of your presence and congregation is 

requested at 


Sister Mary Augustine 


Sister Lillie Walker 

On Sunday, July zo, 1941 

At the hour of eight of the clock P.M. 

St. Anthony's Daniel Helping Hand Divine 

Spiritualist Church of the Southwest 

zi39 St. Ann Street 

BRO. EDWARD JACKSON, Sr. Deacon-Treas. 

This meant that Sister Mary Augustine and Sister Lillie Walker 
were about to be graduated in praying and preaching and healing 
and prophesying and were to be ordained as 'Mothers' of the 
Spiritualist Church of the Southwest. 

The chapel was entirely redecorated for the great occasion of 
these ordinations. Everything was snowy white, with sheeting 
covering every inch of walls and ceiling, and all the chairs 
painted white. The altar had been moved from beneath the 
mantel to the front of the room. All the colored crepe paper had 
been exchanged for white, chains of it stretching across the 
ceiling and meeting here and there in big bells of the same ma- 
terial. Mother Shannon explained, when asked: 'White is for 
purity, ain't it?' 

Candles burned on the altar and to one side of it stood two 
huge candles about five feet high, as yet unlighted. Before 
and between them was a white satin pillow. This was for the 
candidates' use when they knelt to be ordained. 

Mother Shannon wore white, too, with a veil of white crepe 

40 6 - Gumbo Ya-Ya 

binding her hair and hanging down her back. She and Sister 
Davis also in white were quite busy, rushing about as fast 
as their weight permitted, greeting this person and that one, and 
attending to mysterious duties in the rear of the house. The 
night was insufferably warm and not a breath of air seemed to 
get into the chapel, until at last three or four electric fans were 
resurrected and placed here and there . Mother Shannon ' s daugh- 
ter, a shapely young black girl in a slack suit and with a modern 
'upswept' hairdo, attended to this very efficiently, climbing on 
chairs to rig up extension cords, and yelling from one end of the 
rooms to the other. It was noticeable that after performing 
these tasks, she took no further interest in the services at all, but 
vanished for the rest of the evening, and with a certain percep- 
tible disdain no doubt suitable to a co-ed from Loyola of Chicago. 

Every leader of the various chapels of the Spiritualist Church 
of the Southwest was present. Three rows of chairs up front 
were reserved for these dignitaries, who floated in wearing every 
sort and color of robe and veil conceivable. Queerly out of place 
was a single white 'mother,' who, wearing a light blue regalia, 
knelt immediately upon reaching her place, and prayed loudly 
and dramatically, the prayer sounding like this: 'Oh, my Father, 
oh, my Father, oh, my Father, oh, my Father, oh, my Father, 
oh, my Father, oh, my Father, oh, my Father, oh, my Father, 
oh, my Father! Ohmyfatherohmyfatherohmyfatherohmyfather- 
ohmyfatherohmyfatherohmyfather! Bless the white girls and 
boys, oh, my Father! Bless the President of the United States, 
oh, my Father. Bless all the colored people, oh, my Father! 
Bless all the white and the colored and all the white and the 
colored and all the white and the colored, ohmyfatherohmy- 
father. Havemercyhavemercyhavemercyhavemercy. Ohmy- 
myfatherohmyfather . . .' 

It lasted about twenty minutes, with practically no variation 
in theme or tempo. No one paid any attention to her at all 
though she prayed loudly enough to be heard across the street, 
her eyes shut tight, her thin, pale face set and tense, her hands 

Part of the ceremony that precedes All Saints' Day 





All Saints' Day in St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery 

On All Saints' Day refreshments and souvenirs are sold at the cemetery gates 

"Banjo Annie," one of the gayer characters of the Vieux Cirre 

> ^ 




Chimney Sweeps still do a thriving business in New Orleans 

Mother Shannon 4 o 7 

knotted before her. It was learned later that she was Mother 
Theresa Cordiz, a member of Mother Shannon's Church, and 
trained under the latter's guidance. The Negro 'mothers' ig- 
nored her throughout the entire evening. 

The services were very late beginning, but at last the bishop 
of the Spiritualist Church of the Southwest appeared on the al- 
tar, from the anteroom, and raised his dark brown hands in 
blessing. Bishop Thomas B. Watson, a teacher at Sylvians Wil- 
liams, Negro school, graduate of Xavier University, began 
speaking, using precise English, not without some affectations, 
and with a studied manner that made you wonder if he didn't 
don his diction with his robes, and speak differently on week 
days. He reminded the congregation that it was late, that he 
was a very busy man, a very tired man though of course he 
was always glad to do his duty and that he and they all had 
to go to work on the morning not so far away. Then he pro- 
ceeded to speak for forty-five minutes, explaining at great length 
how hard he worked and that he was a ' professional man of this 
fair city.' At last he said that there might be time for a little 
testifying, but that each speaker must be as brief as possible. 

A sister rose and began these dearly beloved testimonials. She 
had, she said, been a wicked sinner for a long time. Then walk- 
ing down the street one day she had met Jesus, and had been 
saved. As she mentioned Jesus, she was afflicted with an attack 
of the ' jerks' and she shuddered and jerked until she had to be 
assisted back into her chair. Another sister rose immediately, 
sang a few lines of a hymn, then went into her testifying. She 
had been a sinner, too, and had been saved. Then she bent for- 
ward, leaned back, shuddered, shook, and jerked. From then on 
it was entirely repetitious. Each testifying sister told approxi- 
mately the same story, sang a little, suffered the ' jerks.' Each 
speaker was echoed with 'Amens' and 'Hallelujahs' and such 

This over, the pianist, the same Johnny Jones who had accom- 
panied the singers Saint Joseph's Night, gave a solo. Then there 
were hymns and prayers, and prayers and hymns. Bishop Wat- 
son spoke again. Then a lean, very black Negro dressed as a 
Roman Catholic priest, except for a striped gray shirt and bright 

4 o 8 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

orange necktie, showing above the edge of his cassock, who 
spoke with a definite Cajun accent and ended every single sen- 
tence of his talk with ' Amen !' , took his turn. ' You know Jesus 
is your true friend, yes?' he said. ' Amen! You know you ain't 
got nothing to worry about if you got him for be your friend? 
Amen! He say go forth and don't sin no more, huh? Amen!' 
He sweated profusely and was forced to dab at his brow with a 

Finally the procession of the candidates to the altar began. 
First appeared a little girl dressed all in white and carrying flow- 
ers. She was light brown and had a thick mass of jet curls which 
hung to her shoulders and were tied with a white silk ribbon. 
She came up the aisle slowly, painstakingly, making two even 
steps, then coming to a complete halt, then two more steps. At 
last, some ten feet and three minutes behind her, appeared the 
first candidate Sister Mary Augustine. Sister Mary Augus- 
tine was quite tall and very black. She was dressed in white 
satin and wore a veil like a bride. Her jet hair was elaborately 
curled and arranged, and she carried a bouquet of white gladioli. 
From the very first glimpse it caught, the congregation could 
tell this was the biggest moment in Sister Mary Augustine's life. 

Her ecstasy was so extreme she could scarcely walk at all. At 
exactly every third step she stopped and gave way to an attack 
of the ' jerks.' She shook so violently that it seemed she would 
never retain her balance, but somehow she proceeded up the aisle 
until she reached the altar. Here she collapsed completely. 
Bishop Watson and Brother Peterson, a young Negro who had 
been sitting quietly until now, each seized an arm and replaced 
Sister Augustine on her feet, assisting her to the white satin pil- 
low before the candles. But here she outdid herself, shaking and 
jerking, and sucking in her breath as she knelt. As many as half 
of the sisters in the congregation were affected by this, and they 
began jerking, too, eyes closed, shoulders twisting and contort- 
ing. Even Mother Shannon had an attack. Her whole huge 
body jerked and shuddered and she fell forward and was caught 
in the arms of Bishop Watson. Sister Mary Augustine was lifted 
gently from her kneeling position on the floor and half carried 
to one of the two chairs awaiting the candidates before the altar. 

Mother Shannon 


Now everyone awaited the appearance of Sister Lillie Walker. 
Little Bessie Lee Jackson, the small girl who had led Sister 
Augustine, vanished quickly to the rear, holding up her ankle- 
length white organdy dress, then reappeared in the aisle a mo- 
ment later, walking with the extreme slow and measured pace 
she had used before. At last came Sister Lillie Walker, and it 
was evident she had either watched Sister Augustine from the 
rear or else was more emotional, for she outdid the first candidate 
with jerking and shuddering and much sucking in of breath. 
Tears poured down her cheeks, and it was a temptation not to 
bet money that she wouldn't make it to the altar. Bishop Wat- 
son and Brother Peterson had to almost carry her to the pillow, 
then to the chair. Even there she collapsed again for at least 
the seventh time, fell limply forward and had to be pushed back 
to a sitting position. At sight of this Mother Shannon was 
again overcome and had to be aided, and members of the congre- 
gation jerked and emitted little strangling cries of ecstasy. 

However, most of the emotionalism at last quieted, though 
occasionally a sister would be seen to drop her head, eyes closed, 
and shake it violently. Bishop Watson addressed the candidates, 
stressing the difficulties they would encounter, but the honor 
that was theirs. After him Mother Shannon spoke, then the vis- 
iting mothers. All said about the same thing, amounting to 
something like: ' You have a hard road ahead of you. You will 
be called a voodoo! Doors will close in your face. Your best 
friends will turn against you. They will say you are a voodoo! 
But wasn't Jesus called a voodoo? Yes, doors will close, but 
follow Jesus and He will open the doors for you ! Put your hands 
in God's and you will never falter.' Through each little advis- 
ing address there were, of course, the echoing cries of: 'Amen!' 
' That's right !' ' Ain't it the real truth !' ' Yes, Mother!' Then 
there were songs. 

At last it was announced that Mary Lou Green of Chicago 
would honor with a solo. Mary Lou proved to be a dark brown 
girl of about fifteen with long curls and a red mouth containing 
very white teeth and the pinkest tongue ever seen. Without 
musical accompaniment, but with many gesticulations, she 
stood before the altar, facing the congregation, and sang 'The 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Highway To Heaven.' At each pronouncement of ' Heaven' she 
would point a rigid arm and finger toward the ceiling, and her 
mouth would open very wide. She had a curious but fascinating 
habit of thrusting her pink tongue in and out as she sang. 

After this the entire congregation sang ' When the Moon Go 
Down and Vanish Away, ' which begins : 

When the moon go down and vanish away, 
When the sun refuse to shine, 
Oh, when every star in the Heaven give way 
Then I want to take Jesus to be mine. 

A Negro from the Algiers church sang, then announced his 
wife would sing, too. This over, five members of the Algiers 
choir rose, all white-robed women, and sang. Then one sang 
alone. At last Bishop Watson asked that Enit Ellis, apparently 
an often featured soloist at the Daniel Helping Hand Divine, 
sing ' What a Friend We Have in Jesus. ' After that Bishop Wat- 
son called on Bishop T. Morris Kelly, who proved to be a large, 
fleshy, light Negress stylishly dressed in a beige street costume 
with turban to match and baring a number of beautiful gold 
teeth when she smiled. A great many diamonds flashed as she 
emphasized her talk with gestures. 

Others were then called upon, including an amazingly long 
thin Negress in blue velvet, who turned out to be a Mother Clark 
from Washington, D.C., and Mother Lottie Davis, a missionary. 

It was now about one-thirty in the morning. Bishop Watson 
and the Bishop with the Cajun accent assisted Sister Mary Au- 
gustine from her chair to the pillow between the candles. The 
jerking started immediately, affecting Sister Augustine, Mother 
Shannon, and members of the congregation. But at last Sister 
Augustine reached the white satin pillow and was helped to her 
knees. Bishop Watson held a wreath of orange blossoms above 
her head and muttered a few words. She shuddered violently 
and had to be held under the armpits. Then Mother Shannon 
and Bishop T. Morris Kelly, one on each side, pinned the wreath 
in place. Then all the mothers gathered around in a ring and 
held outstretched hands, palms downward, over the head of the 
new recruit for a moment. It was noticeable that the single 

Mother Shannon 

white leader, Mother Theresa Cordiz, had a difficult time finding 
a place, and that she was subject to a particularly violent attack 
of jerking. Then Bishop Watson snapped his fingers and the 
ring broke. The candidate now Mother Augustine was 
helped to her feet. 

Mother Shannon presented her with a rolled diploma. Bishop 
Watson handed her a membership card bearing a golden seal, 
and a 'traveling card,' entitling her to travel anywhere in the 
United States and represent the Spiritualist Church of the South- 
west. She was now graduated in preaching and praying and 
healing and prophesying. As a final touch, Bishop T. Morris 
Kelly gave her a Bible a new one. 

Mother Shannon was so overcome with the * jerks ' that she 
couldn't help Sister Lillie Walker at all, when her time came. 
After the bishops, with much hard work and perspiring, got her 
onto the pillow, Bishop Watson remarked : ' Mother Shannon is 
a wonderful woman. She gave twenty-two dollars to the dedica- 
tion of our church in Algiers.' 

The procedure ordinating Sister Walker was precisely the same 
as for the first candidate, except that the Bible presented her by 
Bishop T. Morris Kelly was noticeably old and worn. It was 
later learned that both Bibles were donated, and evidently it was 
a case of 'first come, first served' as to who received the better 
of the two. 

Now there appeared a huge imitation cut glass punch bowl, 
and the candidates, bishops and 'mothers' washed their hands 
in it. Holy Communion followed, with church dignitaries par- 
taking first of the wine and crackers, then members of the con- 

This over, Brother Peterson stepped before the congregation 
with a wooden bowl in his hands. Smiling genially, he an- 
nounced: 'Now, listen, everybody! I wants nine dollars! 
Mother Shannon got to have nine dollars, and this bowl's gonna 
keep comin' back to you till Mother Shannon gets her nine 

Another brother took the bowl and started down the aisle. 
Brother Peterson burst into song, rendering 'Just a Closer Walk 
with Thee.' He sang loud and well, with gestures reminiscent 


Gumbo Ya-Ya 

of Al Jolson's 'Mammy.' The bowl went through the audience 
three times, but unfortunately only $4.85 was collected from all 
three. Thus did the services come to an end. 

It was two-thirty in the morning, but, despite this, church 
dignitaries and most of the congregation retired to the anteroom 
for sandwiches and punch. Mother Shannon looked very tired. 
She could hardly keep her eyelids up at all. 

Chapter 20 

The Sockserhause Gang 

sidered Creole and Latin in character. But though the French 
and Spanish undoubtedly comprised the major portion of the 
population in the early days, other races soon found homes here, 
Irish, with fists ever ready for a brawl, and Germans, always 
equally as willing to join in any melee. No tougher element ever 
lived in the city than the old Sockserhause Gang. 

A decade or two after the War Between the States, these Ger- 
mans settled in a section of the lower city, near what was then 
known as the Bone Factory, a wild and swampy region, infested 
with the nauseous odor of bones drying in the sun . The stench 
was fearful and notorious, and on bad days was wafted for miles, 
but those who resided in the Sockserhause community seemed im- 
pervious to this. The land was cheap, the woods were close, and 
the frugal German folk appreciated the advantages of building 
homes at extremely low costs. Too, the swamps provided ideal 
pasture for raising their hogs a favorite occupation. Garbage 
was gathered from the adjacent vicinities on which the pigs 
could be fed. The Sockserhausers were not proud. 

Neither were they very clean. In fact, only a rapid succession 

414 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

of miracles occurred during this era or they possessed the most 
remarkable constitutions ever recorded; otherwise no Sockser- 
hauser would have lived very long. When the epidemics, once so 
prevalent and so violent in New Orleans, struck, they were 
nearly always the first to suffer. Smallpox and cholera, malaria 
and yellow fever raged through the settlement again and again, 
yet most of them seemed to survive. There is certainly no mys- 
tery attached to the frequency of the plagues. All drinking water 
was derived from cisterns fed by gutter pipes on the roofs of 
houses. During dry spells, these rooftops collected dust, dirt and 
bird excrement, all to be swept into the cisterns when the rains 
came. Dead rats, birds, even an occasional human corpse were 
discovered in these reservoirs. Drowning in cisterns became a 
popular method of suicide. There was even a saying, 'If you're 
over forty, go and jump in the cistern.' Consequently, whenever 
a member of the settlement vanished everyone took care to exam- 
ine their cisterns, if they were at all fastidious. Fortunately, the 
Sockserhausers had a certain contempt for water. They preferred 
beer for drinking purposes. 

When baths were necessary when was entirely relative and 
completely a matter of individual opinion, though Saturday 
night was probably the usual occasion equal disregard of Herr 
Leeuwenhoek's discovery of the microbe was exhibited. One tub 
of water would be heated and each member of the family would 
bathe in turn and in the same water. This was all managed by a 
system of rotation according to age. For instance, if the eldest 
child was bathed first this Saturday, next week he would be at 
the end of the line. Whether the children were boys or girls 
made no difference. Mothers and fathers always emersed them- 
selves in the now really delightful bath last. Sometimes 
young people swam in mudholes in the neighborhood and this 
of course eliminated them from the competition on Saturday 
nights. For drying purposes, after these baths, there was always 
the family roller towel hanging on the kitchen wall, which was 
never changed until it was black. The drinking bucket with its 
tin, usually rusty, dipper, was also in common use, providing 
means of refreshment for all the family, neighbors and visiting 

The Socks erkause Gang 

All this led to certain disadvantages to those Sockserhausers 
who were not tough enough to withstand them. For instance 
there was Faldene. He was a shoemaker and, as was necessary 
in those days, an artist at his craft. He was not the fighting kind. 
Poor Faldene lost a leg just because someone stepped on his toe 
during a race at a picnic at Milneburg, favorite resort of the day. 
Faldene 's toe was swollen and he had to go to a doctor. From 
that worthy soul he received instructions to sit in his backyard 
all day with his sore toe under the cistern faucet, letting the 
filthy water drip, drop by drop, upon it. Gangrene set in. Fal- 
dene lost his foot. A second and a third operation cost him the 
rest of his leg. This misfortune did not, fortunately, damage his 
career. He continued to be a shoemaker and an artist. 

Another unfortunate Sockserhauser was Long Nose. His real 
name was Ernest and he had two children, but after the develop- 
ment of a tremendous growth on his already remarkably large 
proboscis, even his offspring refused to have anything to do with 
him. Long Nose became a hermit, shunning mankind as it 
avoided him. It was perfectly natural that in time Long Nose 
should become a legend, and soon he was the bogeyman of the 
neighborhood. Parents frightened children with the warning 
that ' I'm going to give you to Long Nose if you don't do so and 
so.' Among themselves the adults whispered of voodoo and the 
ability of Long Nose to place a 'curse' upon those he disliked. 
As always, fear and misunderstanding bred hatred for the non- 

Neighborhood children tormented him constantly. They 
would throw missiles at his shack, leap the fence to pilfer pro- 
ductive orange, fig and peach trees growing on his property, only 
to flee for their very lives should the hermit appear. There were 
mysterious and ghastly certainties regarding the fate of any lad 
captured by the old man. Parents always writhed in horror upon 
the discovery that their offspring had eaten of Long Nose's 
fruit. Surely it was cursjsd! If any ailment followed, it was con- 
sidered absolute proof. It was reported that sickening odors 
emanated from Long Nose's chimney, evidence that some evil 
cauldron boiled within. 

He owned a huge dog which howled through most of the 

4 1 6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

night, and should a death occur in the vicinity while the animal 
was serenading the moon, there was no idea but that Long Nose's 
occult powers had played some part in it. Occasionally the dog 
would be poisoned, but invariably another of identical type 
would appear. Most of the abuse was borne patiently. Police 
were never summoned, vengeance never sought. Probably had 
Long Nose been left alone he would have been happy and quite 
harmless, exercising the rightful human prerogative of living out 
his existence in his own peculiar fashion. 

But who could be convinced of this? Wasn't it true that his 
trees bore a wealth of fruit with no attention whatever? When 
storms struck the neighborhood and giant oak trees were up- 
rooted, were these fragile ones ever harmed? Did the frequent 
fires in his neighborhood ever touch his wooden shack? How 
did he live? where did his food and clothing come from? He 
never earned any money. Several times during his lifetime the 
plagues swept through the Sockserhause community; they never 
touched Long Nose. Floods and other catastrophes would dam- 
age or entirely destroy other homes, it was said, but never his. 
No. Undoubtedly, only voodoo and other evil powers protected 

But Long Nose outlived all the slander, all the torment, even 
most of the neighbors who hated him and the urchins who 
stoned him. He lived to a great age, it is reported to be more 
than a hundred. No one ever knew who attended to the last de- 
tails of his interment. Evidently his daughters had kept closer 
contact with him than was suspected. And a final mystery ac- 
companied him to his grave. It is an established fact that when 
he died he no longer bore the hideous and disfiguring growth on 
his nose that had ruined his life. There are two rumors regarding 
this : one that he attempted to remove the thing himself and that 
this caused his demise, the other that he at last consented to go 
under the surgeon's knife, regret for his long, self-imposed exile 
coming at last, but too late. Poor old Long Nose. 

Mary Bartell is eighty-five years old and she remembers the 
Sockserhause Gang well, particularly an ancient lady named 
'Mudder' Hecht, who was old when Mary Bartell was a girl. 

'I'm the oldest living member of the Second Methodist 

The Sockserbause Gang -417 

Church,' she said. 'But when I joined it wasn't called that; it 
was the Craps Methodist Church and nearly all the members 
were Sockserhausers. When Craps Street became Burgundy 
Street the name of the church was changed. Yes, I know craps is 
a dice game, but in them days people never bothered about 
nothin' like that, 'specially the Sockserhausers. 

4 1 was real pretty when I was young and a good dancer. All 
the boys liked me plenty. Even that Johnny Gouse used to make 
love to me, but I wouldn't have nothin' to do with that man. 
Not me ! The best of all the Sockserhausers was ' ' Mudder' ' Hecht. 
Do you know when she was young she almost married Long 
Nose? Well, everybody said she was a little cracked, but that 
didn't matter. She was the best cook in the world. She could 
make the best Sviebel Cougan onion pie, yes, sir I ever had 
in my life. No, I don't know how she made it, but you couldn't 
taste the onions and it was kind of sweet. All Germans love 
pastry. You should have tasted "Mudder" Hecht 's Schoof- 
noodles ! They were little pieces of dough she would roll in her 
hands; they looked like the Pee Wees the boys used to play a 
game with those were little wooden pegs about two inches 
long that they'd stick in the ground, striking the other end with 
a broomstick. ' ' Mudder ' ' always dried her Schoofhoodles in the 
sun, then she'd boil them and brown them in a pan with veg- 
etables and eggs. She made all her own noodles too. She'd cut 
them into thin strips and put them out in the yard on a piece of 
newspaper to dry. Unsanitary? My, Mister, we never bothered 
about things like that. 

'She made Kneflers, too, and Dompfernoodles to eat with 
chicken stew or Hassenpfeffer. But her hams were the best of all. 
Every Christmas she fixed up a lot of them hams to give as pres- 
ents. I don't believe anybody cooked them the way she did. 
She'd take whole big hams and boil them with a big red 
brick in the water to take out the salty taste and then bake 
them with spices and sugar. After that she would wrap them in 
a special kind of dough and bake them again. You never tasted 
anything like that in your life. "Mudder" Hecht might have 
been a little cuckoo, but it didn't make any difference because she 
sure could cook. My, I wish I had a piece of her Sviebel Cougan 
right now!' 

4 1 8 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Lena Muller and her strange will is famous among the legends 
of the Sockserhause Gang. 

Lena Muller was a buxom fraulein, without real beauty, but 
with a vibrant, fun-loving personality and a pair of dancing feet 
that made her extremely popular among the Sockserhause men. 
Lena loved a joke and she never took a dare. It is said that once 
her brother put his finger on a chopping block and dared Lena to 
cut it off, and that the girl calmly swung the hatchet and lopped 
the finger in two. Working out, as did most of the Sockser- 
hause girls, Lena would cook and wash all day, then spend al- 
most the whole night at a pig raffle or dancing heel-and-toe 

One of her favorite stunts was answering advertisements in the 
newspapers, especially those in the Men's Help Wanted column. 
If a truck driver were needed, Lena would write a letter answer- 
ing, giving the address of one of her girl friends, and think it a 
great joke. She had three intimate friends Christine, Mary 
and Emma on whom she usually played her jokes. One day 
she answered an advertisement for a young lady to travel and 
demonstrate a sweet biscuit, giving the address of a fashionable 
home just across the street from the place where she worked. 
Then she arranged for her three friends and herself to watch the 
arrival of the advertiser. At last a tall and exceedingly hand- 
some stranger wearing an elegant Prince Albert appeared, en- 
tered the house and emerged with a baffled expression on his 
countenance. Then Lena announced her intention of crossing 
the street, apologizing, and applying for the position. Immedi- 
ately there was consternation. 

'He's a dandy!' observed Christine. 

' He's no good,' declared Mary. ' Look how well he's dressed. ' 

'He looks like a villain in a play!' warned Emma. 

But Lena could not be dissuaded. She ran across the street, ac- 
costed the gentleman, and in few minutes returned to announce 
that she had the job, was leaving for Texas at once, that the man 
had a wife to chaperon, and that it was nonsensical to consider 
every well-dressed stranger a 'wolf in sheep's clothing.' 

The day Lena left New Orleans she was serious for the first 
time in her life. Calling her three friends into a room, she closed 
the door and began talking. 

The Sockserhause Gang 41 g 

'Girls,' she said, 'I'm happy about this nice position, but 
leaving you almost breaks my heart. I'm going to miss you more 
than anything in the world. Yet I can't turn this down. All my 
expenses are to be paid and I'm to get ten dollars a week besides. 
But I'm going to ask you something before I go. I don't want 
any of you to ever forget me. Now, I haven't any photographs 
of myself to give you, but I do have fifteen dollars in three five- 
dollar bills. I've written my name on each of them and taken 
down the numbers. Now I'm going to give each of you one of 
the bills and I want you to promise me that you will never spend 
them, but will keep them always.' 

The girls protested but Lena won out as usual, giving each a 
bill and accepting from each a one-dollar bill in return. A few 
hours later Lena Muller left New Orleans forever. None of the 
friends was ever to see her again. 

But they received glowing letters; Lena liked her job; every- 
thing was fine. Months passed, then years. At last the news 
came that she was happily married to a Texas farmer, Jim Rob- 
erts. Gradually her letters became less frequent, until only Emma 
heard from her, and then but rarely. Each time she wrote, 
though, Lena mentioned the five-dollar bills, reiterating her 
hope that the girls still had them. More years passed. Christine 
and Mary were married, Emma remained single. Then one day 
Mary came to Emma. Her husband was ill and she and her two 
children were in great financial difficulties. 

'Emma,' she said, 'I haven't a cent in the world but that five 
dollars Lena gave me. I'm going to spend it now. I just wanted 
you to know that I wouldn't if things were not as bad as they 
are. That five dollars could never do me as much good as it will 
right now. I know Lena would understand if she knew. ' 

So Mary spent her five dollars. Shortly afterward, Christine 
spent hers, too. Of the three, only Emma retained Lena's bill 
throughout life. A few years afterward, however, Emma died 
and a nephew found the five dollars in her family Bible, and, 
unaware of the women's pact, spent it. Thus all the bills passed 
from their original possessors. 

Twenty years after Emma's death, Christine passed on, and 
one day soon afterward a lawyer came to New Orleans and found 


Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Mary, the lone survivor of the trio, and confronted her with a 
queer document. It read: 

Dear Emma, Christine and Mary: 

Years have passed since I heard from you. I have lived 
happy and contented on our farm. I've worked hard and 
haven't much money, but our farm land is large and ought to 
be worth something. Jim died. I haven't anyone left, but I've 
leased the farm and can get along nicely until I, too, pass on. 
They are striking oil all over Texas, and who knows maybe 
they might hit it on my land someday. I'm putting this letter 
among my papers and should I be worth anything when I die, 
I am leaving it to you and your heirs, providing you still have 
that five-dollar bill I gave each of you when I left. If you have 
it yet I know that you always remembered me. I have the 
three one-dollar bills that you each gave me. If any of you has 
a bill, you are to receive all. If two of you have bills you re- 
ceive half each, and if all three have bills, you split three ways. 
If you haven't the bills, then I am leaving whatever I own 
when I die to charity here in Galveston, which I name as fol- 

Death had come to Lena Muller, too, and it was disclosed that 
she had accepted an offer of thirty-five thousand dollars cash for 
her land, and that this was the amount to be distributed under 
the terms of her will. Under the circumstances, charity received 
the entire amount. 

But even in the case of Mary, the only living member of the 
odd pact, there was little if any regret, for when Mary had spent 
that five-dollar bill it had given her family a new lease on life. 
Her husband had recovered from his illness and found work. 
Now her two children were grown and working to help them. 
Her last years were peaceful and very happy. So there remained 
only the question was that five dollars worth more to Mary 
at the time she used it, or if she had saved it? 

The Sockserhausers loved to dance, and much rivalry in this 
respect existed between them and rival neighborhoods in New 
Orleans, especially if any of the German girls were seen dancing 
at functions in other parts of the city. And these girls, being 
female, would often start trouble deliberately by seeking invita- 

The Sockserhause Gang 421 

tions to rival affairs. Many dances would terminate in rights, 
but these Sockserhausers never stooped to use any weapons but 
their fists, except for an occasional lead pipe in extreme emer- 

Principal foes and most hated were the Irish Channel gangs, 
living in the uptown section of the city, near the river. Though 
nearly five miles separated these 'kingdoms,' when one side 
craved a brawl with the other they would form and march to the 
other's neighborhood. 

One of the major causes of antagonism between the gangs was 
the difference in their taste as to liquor. The Sockserhausers 
always drank beer, the Irishmen straight whiskey without a 
chaser, it being considered 'sissified' to drink water afterward, 
with a penalty for so doing of immediate dismissal from the 
gang, preceded by a thorough ' going over' by former bosom pals 
as a farewell sentiment. 

Often during one of the fights at the dances the fire department 
would be summoned, which would cheerfully turn loose giant 
hoses without compunction or regard for household effects. 
Peace would then ensue until some flaxen-haired fraulein or some 
dark-eyed colleen again strayed from the fold. 

But when death occurred both sides would declare a holiday 
from fighting and attend the wake of the deceased en masse. 
These wakes were always held for several nights, and food and 
drink were served abundantly. So whenever an Irishman felt the 
mood for a little beer drinking he ascertained whether there was 
a Sockserhause wake that night, and whenever a German felt 
inclined to imbibe a bit of harder liquor he reversed the proce- 
dure and journeyed to grieve beside the remains of some Irish 
Channel corpse. Decorum at these affairs was always strictly 
Emily Post, though of course negotiations might be arranged for 
a later meeting. 

Both factions were always boastful of the strong men among 
their members; and despite poverty and absolute ignorance of 
hygienic laws, their physical development was remarkable. The 
Sockserhausers usually made their livings at the hardest of 
physical labor, at woodcutting and similar trades, while the 
Irishmen worked on the wharves loading the ships, carrying the 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

cargo on their backs. Undoubtedly it was these occupations 
that made giants of the men in both gangs, lending much zest 
and gusto to their frequent battles. 

A favorite Sockserhause diversion was picnicking out at 
Milneburg, a point on Lake Ponchartrain near New Orleans. 
Along a wharf edging the lake were rough camps of one or two 
rooms which could be rented by the day. At the Sockserhause 
picnics there were always such contests as greased-pole climbing, 
mixed-shoe races, greasy-pig chasing and races consisting of 
pushing wheelbarrows loaded with heavy sacks. Prizes were 
always given the winners, and this and the small admission fee 
of perhaps twenty-five cents, which included all the beer you 
could drink, caused the events to attract practically the entire 
Sockserhauser settlement. 

Transportation to Milneburg was achieved via a branch line of 
the L. and N. R. R., on a wheezing vehicle, pulled by an engine 
known as 'Smoky Mary.' When put to the test, Smoky Mary 
could, amidst great puffing and blowing and much expulsion of 
smoke and cinders, attain the remarkable speed of ten miles an 
hour. Passengers usually emerged with clothes blackened and 
eyes and throat stuffed with cinders. Johnny Gouse was fireman 
to Smoky Mary, and his fame is still remembered in New Orleans. 

' Uncle Johnny?' reminisced Emile Gouse, a nephew. ' Yes, sir, 
that was a tough bird. He fired Smoky Mary for years and that 
was a job that took a real man. Uncle Johnny used to fill that 
old boiler to the busting point and that hunk of iron would puff 
along just about as fast as a horse can trot.' 

Johnny was even more famous as a fighter and a lover than as 
Smoky Mary's fireman. His strength was such that he licked all 
comers, including the mighty Irish, and when two of these 
bruisers slugged it out, it was with bare fists, and both were so 
strong and tough that the fight would continue for hours, until 
both were bloody and bored and badly in need of a drink. Even 
then they often arranged to renew the fight at another date. 

This Johnny Gouse could tear a deck of cards in half with his 
hands, let men break rocks on his chest with a sledgehammer. 
He could strike a match on the naked sole of his foot. 

Then there was his prowess as a lover. He had a terrific yen for 

The Sockserhause Gang 42$ 

the girls, but those girls who were in the know avoided him. 
Even some of the prostitutes would refuse to do business with 
Johnny, no matter how large his bankroll. Suffice it to say that 
Johnny was a big man in every way. 

Yet when Johnny got licked it was women who were blamed 
for his downfall. Despite anatomical unusualness, he finally 
married, and managed to keep several other women on the side. 
This, it is said, gradually undermined his strength, and a grow- 
ing addiction to alcohol finished the job. One time when he met 
the Irish Channel champion wails of woe rang out through 
Sockserhause-land. Johnny Gouse was beaten. There were 
those cynics, of course, who averred that the mighty Johnny had 
' laid down' to please his wife, who was always after him to stop 
fighting, but most of his friends preferred to blame it on the 

A tradition shattered, a legend dying while its hero still lived, 
Johnny Gouse moved to Texas. It is rumored that there he 
built a whole street of shacks in some small town, christened it 
Gouse 's Lane. And here in Texas Johnny came to a sudden and 
suitably violent end. His family had always fought fiendishly 
among themselves, and one day a stepson blew his head off with 
a shotgun, and, gripped in one hand of Johnny's headless carcass, 
was found a villainous-looking butcher knife, with which he 
had been chasing the stepson. Friends in New Orleans sighed 
rapturously at the beautiful compatibility of the life and death of 
Johnny Gouse. 

Back in the eighties and nineties, when gambling flourished 
throughout the city, the Sockserhausers gave vent to their own 
gambling instinct by means of raffles. Churches would give plays 
lasting about an hour and the rest of the evening would be de- 
voted to the raffling. Pin wheels and paddles were the devices 
used, the paddles bearing three numbers in different combina- 
tions, and the numbers on the wheels usually running from one to 
ninety. Members of the sponsoring committee would walk 
through the crowd selling the paddles while the play was in 
progress, completely ignoring it by yelling the praises of the 
prizes offered at the tops of their lungs. These prizes were always 
donated by parishioners and were usually homemade, various 

424 ~ Gumbo Ya-Ya 

women in the neighborhood being particularly noted for certain 
creations. For instance, if a Mrs. Midler were famous for her 
cakes, when the peddler cried out the prize was one of Mrs. Mul- 
ler's cakes he would sell out in a very few minutes. 

Besides cakes, prizes were usually legs of pork, candy, geese, 
ducks or young and squealing pigs. All receipts for the raffles and 
the admissions never more than twenty cents a person went 
to the society sponsoring the show, and whether the auditorium 
used seated five hundred or five thousand persons it was always 
overcrowded. Many people attended all these shows, sometimes 
walking miles, and, if lucky, walking home again with a strug- 
gling live goose, turkey or pig under one arm. The next day it 
would be promulgated throughout the neighborhood that Mrs. 
So-and-So had won a pig at Saint Peter and Paul's raffle and Mrs. 
So-and-So would be the subject of envy for days, there existing 
always the characteristic gambler's disregard of the amount 
spent for the paddles, often enough to have bought several geese 
or turkeys or pigs. 

A Mrs. Schindler and a Mrs. Farley were particularly well 
known for their Saturday night ' shindigs,' the affairs always in- 
cluding free beer, dancing and the raffling of pigs, chickens and 
other prizes, all handled in much the same manner as the church 
affairs. Keen rivalry existed between the two women and each 
constantly worked to outdo the other. 

Mrs. Schindler excelled with her pig raffles. Daily she col- 
lected the garbage of friends and neighbors always called 
' slops' - - and fed her pigs until they grew to be enormous sows. 
Then she would announce a dance and pig raffle to be held at her 
house on a certain date. These announcements were handwrit- 
ten, and were tacked on lamp-posts throughout the Sockser- 
hause community and neighboring sections. Admissions were 
twenty-five cents for men and forty cents for couples, this includ- 
ing the dancing, beer and audience at the hog-killing and 

Before the dance began all attending would congregate in 
Mrs. Schindler 's backyard to watch the butchers always 
dressed in snow-white uniforms slaughter the pigs. After 
this came the drinking and the dancing, and while this ensued 

The Sockserhause Gang 425 

the butchers would be preparing the various cuts of pork which 
were to be raffled. 

The entire crowd would collect for the raffling. One number 
would win a leg, another a loin, until most of the meat was gone. 
Then dancing and beer drinking would continue until the 
butchers made sausage of the pork remaining. This, of which 
liver and blood sausage were the favorites, would be given free to 
the friends who had kept Mrs. Schindler supplied with slops. 
Bets were often made on the butchers' abilities, on which man 
would be the first to kill, skin and dress his hog. 

Dancing would last all night. Marathons were unknown, but 
some couples would dance continuously. Heel-and-toe experts 
would give exhibitions, dancing on heels and toes within a 
chalked circle. Judges would eliminate anyone who moved a 
heel or a toe beyond the chalk mark. A certain Charley Joseph 
and a Mary Gause were known as the heel-and-toe couple who 
could ' swing on a silver dollar. ' 

From Carl Sellers, seventy-nine-year-old Orleanian, came the 
story of the origin of the Sockserhause name. 

'I was only a youngster at the time,' said Mr. Sellers, 'but I 
remember the Sockserhausers well. The name? Oh, it came from 
a beer garden run by an old German named Schrieber. He called 
it the Saxon Hause, You see, Saxony was famous for its pretty 
girls, and they used to sing a song about it - "Where do all the 
pretty girls come from? From Saxony! From Saxony!" I can't 
remember all the words. Mr. Schrieber used to say the girls who 
came to his beer garden were just as pretty as the ones in Saxony 
and that that was why he called it the Saxon Hause. We used to 
have fine times there, singing and dancing to all the "fine German 
music. That was, of course, when Germany was a country of 
good music and culture. 

' There were no radios then or those things you stick a nickel 
in. All the music at the Saxon Hause came from a real band. 
There were two cornets, a trombone, a clarionet, a fiddle and a 
oompah. You know what an oompah is? I used to have a friend, 
when I was a boy, named Rudy Schmidt. One day our school- 
teacher asked Rudy what his father did for a living, and Rudy 
replied that he played the oompah in the Saxon Hause band. 

42. 6 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

You know how that tuba sounds OOOM PAH PAH! 
OOOM PAH PAH! But that band could play good dance 
music. We used to dance those heel-and-toe dances to all the 
Viennese waltzes. We'd sing the Schnit^enbank Die Lorelei - 
all those oldtime German songs. Ach! Those were the good old 
days. You could take a girl, stay all evening and never spend 
more than a dollar a large glass of beer for a nickel, pretzels, 
cheese, crackers and all kinds of sandwiches on your table free of 
charge. Sometimes those Irishmen would come down and try to 
steal our girls. It was good fun. Maybe plenty of fist fights, but 
no one was ever hurt seriously. Ja, das Saxon Hause! I'll never 
forget it.' 

And now the Sockserhause Gang lives only in the memories of 
men like Carl Sellers. The years passed and the city grew, and 
the Sockserhause community passed as a separate section of New 
Orleans. Education, civic pride and the modern trend toward 
uniformity worked together to banish forever most of the indi- 
vidualities of customs and characteristics that set apart certain 
races to certain parts of the city; with time all were absorbed and 
mingled and molded in the turbulent melting pot of a great 
American city. 

Chapter 21 


cause not only music but all literature had beginnings in the 
folk songs of early peoples, much of their history and racial 
psychology is revealed in their songs. To the American folk 
song the states of the South have perhaps contributed more than 
any other section of the nation, and though the songs of all may 
possess certain basic resemblances, each state also reveals definite 
and unique individualities. 

The ballads popular among white folk in the rural communi- 
ties of Louisiana display their local origins in many instances, 
though some are sung, and may have been born, in other states. 
The children's songs also demonstrate frequent state, even sec- 
tional differences and customs. 

Negro songs of all these states, similarly, are akin, yet each 
also demonstrates profound differences. In Louisiana this is par- 
ticularly true of those songs of Blue and Spiritual characters. To 
the huge Negro population and to the black man's primitive and 
innate propensity for expressing himself by singing, all the 
Southern States are indebted for their folk music. 

The Creole songs since the Creole inhabited no other part of 


Gumbo Ya-Ya 

the continental United States are perhaps the most typical 
of all, exhibiting peculiarly exotic departures from the Anglo- 
Saxonism of practically all other American folk music. 

Creole songs are romantic or morose. Motifs range from the 
most sensuous dances to sheer nonsense rhymes. Some, impro- 
vised by servants and slaves as sly thrusts at their white masters 
and mistresses, are taunting and insinuating, others point con- 
temptuously at the attempts of colored people to pass as white. 
Many approach purest fantasy. 

One of the best known of all Creole songs is Toucoutou, which 
has been published before, but is repeated here because of the 
incongruity of omitting it from any fairly representative Creole 
collection. There are dozens of versions, but this one is probably 
most famous. 


Ah! Toucoutou, ye conin vous, 
Vous te in Morico. 
Na pas savon qui tace blanc 
Pou blanchi vous la peau. 

Endans theatre, quan va prenne loge 
Comme tout blanc comme y fot 
Ye va fe vous jist deloge, 
Na pa passe tantot. 

Quan blanc leyes va donin bal 
Vous pli capab aller. 
Comment va fe, vaillante diabale, 
Vous qui 1'aimin danser? 

Mo proche fini mo ti chanson 
Pasqu6 mo envie dormi, 
Mais mo pense que la le$on 
Longtemps li va servi. 

Ah! Toucoutou, we all know you, 
You are a blackamoor. 
There is no soap strong enough 
To whiten your dark skin. 

In the theater, when you take a box 
Like all the nice white folks, 
They will just put you out, 
You will never stay inside. 

When the white folks go to a ball 
You will never be able to go. 
What will you do, you pretty devil, 
You who like to dance? 

I'm almost through my little song 
Because I am so sleepy, 
But I do believe that this lesson 
Will serve its purpose for a long while. 

The following is one of the many songs written around the 
Danse Calinda; it concerns a Negress's boast of superiority in 
beauty and wits over her Creole mistress. 

Songs 4*9 


Mo te ain negresse, I was a Negress, 

Pli belle que Metresse. More beautiful than my mistress. 

Mo te vole belle-belle I used to steal pretty things 

Dans 1'armoire Mamzelle. From Mamzelle's armoir. 

Danse Calinda, Bou-doum Bou-doum, Danse Calinda, Bou-doum Bou-doum, 
Danse Calinda, Bou-doum Bou-doum! Danse Calinda, Bou-doum Bou-doum! 

The Calinda was a voodoo dance brought to Louisiana from 
San Domingo and the Antilles by Negro slaves. Considered inde- 
cent by the respectable portion of the population, it was offi- 
cially banned throughout the State in 1843, but continued to be 
performed for many years afterward. An early version of the 
Calinda was danced only by men, stripped to the waist and bran- 
dishing sticks in a mock fight while at the same time balancing 
upon their heads bottles of water. As soon as a dancer spilled a 
drop of his water he was banished from the field. Later the 
Calinda degenerated into a thoroughly lascivious performance. 

Bou-doum Bou-doum was a sound meaning to fall down. When 
a Creole child took a tumble his mammy would say, ' He make 
bou-doum bou-doum on the floor. ' They would amuse a child when 
bathing him by jumping him up and down in the water, saying, 
'Ooh, the water is fine! You make bou-doum in the tub.' The 
child would shout with glee and Mammy would clap her hands 
and keep time with her feet, singing, ' Danse Calinda! Bou-doum 

Belle-belle referred to any pretty article in a woman's wardrobe: 
dresses, ribbons or trinkets, any particularly feminine thing a 
slave girl might covet. 

Among the Danse Calinda songs were those on the absurd side, 
such as Jump, Bullfrog, Your Tail Will Burn. 


Saute crapeau, to chieu va brulcr, Jump, bullfrog, your tail will burn, 

Prend courage, li va repousser. Take courage it will grow again. 

Dans6 Calinda, Danse Calinda, 

Bou-doum! Bou-doum! Bou-doum! Bou-doum! 

4$ o Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Dans Nous Cabane was a song referring to clandestine love and 


Dans nous cabanc, 

Nous va manger bainyan, 

Mo cher bebc, to conin mo laimin toi, 

To chante comme zoiseaux dans bois, 

Pou to la beaute, mo ere connin 

Marcher divan Canon; 

Pou to la beaute, mo ere conin 

Marcher divan Canon. 

In our shack 

We will eat fritters, 

My dear baby, you know I love you, 

You sing like the birds in the woods. 

For your beauty, I would 

Walk in front of a cannon; 

For your beauty, I would 

Walk in front of a cannon. 

Dans nous cabanc 

Nous va manger bainyan, 

Mo cher bebe, to conin mo laimin toi: 

Bien souvent to dit moin to la 


Queque fois mo dit toi non, 
Queque fois mo dit toi oui, 
Alors ca fe moin la peine 
Mo dit toi, vini dans nou cabanc 
Pou manger bainyan, pou manger 


In our shack 
We will eat fritters, 
My dear baby, you know I love you; 
So often you have confided your sor- 
rows to me 
Sometimes I said no, 
Sometimes I said yes, 
Then I felt so sorry 
That I asked you to come in my shack 
To eat fritters, to eat fritters. 


This one moralized, pessimistically. Apparently there is no 

Negue pas capab marche sans mai's 

dans poche, 
Ce pou vole poulc 
Milatte pas capab marche sans corde 

dans poche, 
Ce pou vole choual 
Blanc pas capab marche sans 1'arzan 

dans poche, 
Ce pou vole fille. 

Negro cannot walk without corn in 

his pocket, 

It is to steal chickens 
Mulatto cannot walk without rope in 

his pocket, 
It is to steal horses 
White man cannot walk without 

money in his pocket, 
It is to steal girls. 

The next little song had a double meaning. The last line really 
means 'not to cheat on me when I am not there.' 



A little man not bigger than a rat 

Who like a rascal beat his wife, 
Saying: Madame, this will teach you 

Un petit bonhomme pas plus gros 

qu'un rat 
Qui battait sa femme comme un 

En disant: Madame, ga vous ap- 

A voler mes pommes quand jc n'y 

suis pas. 

Not to steal my apples when I am not 

The following song was still popular in New Orleans at the 
turn of the century. 

Mo pas connin queque quichause, 
Qu'appe tourmenter moin la, 
Mo pas connin qui la cause 
Mo coeur ape brule moin comme ca. 
Ah Dieu! Qui tourmen, qui peine, 
C'est in souffrance passe la chaine, 
Plutot mo mouri sin fois. 

To connin belle rigole la, 

Qui couler dans bananiers, 
Ou te fe la folle, 
Quan to te couri baignela 
Dolo la pas coule encore; 
Des fois li rete tout court, 
Li sembe regretter toujours 
Que li pas baigne toi encore. 

I do not know what it is that tor- 
ments me, 

I do not know the cause, 
That makes my heart burn so much. 
Ah God, what torment, what pain, 
It is suffering worse than fetters, 
Better that I die five times 
Than suffer like this. 

You remember that beautiful little 


That ran through the banana trees, 
Where you played the fool, 
When you used to bathe over there. 
The water has ceased to run, 
Sometimes it stops real short, 
It seems always to regret 
That it no longer bathes you. 

Here is a curious song which is considerably more than a cen- 
tury old. 'As old as d'Artaguette' was a Creole proverb to ex- 
press extreme age. 

Di tarns Missieu d' Artaguette, 

H6H6 H6H6! 

C'etait, c'etait bon temps 

Ye te menin moune a la baguette, 

He Ho He Ho! 

In the days of d'Artaguette, 

HeH6 HeH6! 

It was the good old times 

You ruled the world with a switch, 

He Ho He H6! 


Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Pas negues, pas ribans, 
Pas diamans 
Pou cochons. 

He Ho He Ho! 

No Negroes, no ribbons, 

No diamonds 

For pigs. 
H6 Ho He Ho! 

Mo Che Cousin, Mo Che Cousin was one of the most popular of alJ 
the Creole songs. It is said that more than one hundred verses 
were written to the same tune, all dealing with cooking and 
mulattoes striving to pass for Whites. 


Mo che cousin, mo che cousin, 
Mo laimin la kisine, 
Mo manze bien, mo boi divin, 
Ca pas coute mom a rien, 

Tou to milatresses laye, 
Ape passe pou blanc, 
Avec to blancs layes 
Ye alle dans 1'Opera Frangais 
Mais ye fout ye deyer. 

My dear cousin, my dear cousin, 
I love .to do the cooking, 
I eat well, I drink wine, 
It does not cost me a thing. 

All you mulattresses there 
Are passing for white, 
With your white men 
You go to the French Opera 
But they throw you out. 

Fi%i Anglais depicts in song the misery and resignation of a 
slave, who ran away, but returned to the lesser of two evils. 


Fizi Anglais, ye fe Bim-bim, 

Carabine Kaintock, ye fe Zim-zim, 
Mo di moin: Sauve to la peau. 
Mo saute jusqu'a bord dolo 
Quan mo rive li ti fe clair, 
Madame, li pren in coup colere, 
Li fe donne moin quate piquets 
Pasque mo pas servi Missieu. 
Mais moin, mo vaut mieux quatc 

Passe in coup fizi anglais. 

The English guns, they make Bim- 

The Kentuckian's rifle makes Zim-zim, 
I say to myself: Save your skin. 
I ran away to the water's edge, 
When I returned it was daylight, 
Madame flew into a fit of rage, 
She had me given four lashes 
Because I had not served Master. 
But me, I much prefer four lashes 

Than a shot from the English guns. 

There were many, many Creole lullabies, to which mammies 
sang their young charges to sleep. One of the favorites was 
Fats Dodo Minctte. 

Songs 4}$ 


Fe dodo Minette, Go to sleep, Minette, 

Trois piti cochons du laitc, Three little suckling pigs, 

Fe dodo mo piti bebe, Go to sleep, my little baby, 

Jiske lage de quinse ans Until the age of fifteen years 

Quan quinze ans aura passe When fifteen years shall have passed 

Minette va se marier. Minette will then marry. 

Crab Dans Calalou was another song to which many children 
were put to sleep. 


Fe dodo, mo fils, crab dans calalou, Go to sleep, my son, crab is in the 

Fe dodo, mo fils, crab dans calalou. Go to sleep, my son, crab is in the 


Papa, li couri la riviere, Papa has gone to the river, 

Maman, li couri peche crab. Mamma has gone to catch crab. 

Fe dodo, mo fils, crab dans calalou. Go to sleep, my son, crab is in the 

Fe dodo, mo fils, crab dans calalou. Go to sleep, my son, crab is in the 


Mo papa li couri la riviere, My papa has gone to the river, 

Mo maman li couri peche crab. My mamma has gone to catch crab. 

Dodo, mo fille, crab dans calalou. Sleep, my daughter, crab is in the 

Dodo, mo fille, crab dans calalou. Sleep, my daughter, crab is in the 


Mo Gagnin in Piti Cousine is interesting, very old. Marriage 
among cousins was common to the Creoles. Their world was 
small and clannish. 


Mo gagnin in piti cousine I have a little cousin 

Qui donne moin coeur a li Who gave me all her heart 

Li gagnin si doux laimine; She looks so sweet, 

Nouzottc ye marie sordi, We will be married today, 

Nouzotte marie sordi, hi-hi-hi, We will be married today, hey-hey- 


Nouzotte ye marie sordi. We will be married today. 

434 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Li gagnin si doux la mine She looks so sweet 

Mo bo li beau matin, I kissed her this morning, 

Pou entrer so crinoline To hold her crinoline 

Mo te casse in vie baril. I broke an old barrel. 

Mo gagnin in piti cousine I have a little cousin 

Qui don moin coeur a li Who gave me all her heart 

Li gagnin si doux laimine, She looks so sweet, 

Nouzotte marie zordi, We will be married today, 

Nouzotte marie zordi, hi-hi-hi, We will be married today, hey-hey- 


Nouzotte ye marie zordi. We will be married today. 

The tignon was a headdress of brilliant colors worn by Ne- 
gresses and mulatto women. Madame Caba, an early Negro 
dancing song, refers to the expression that the wearer of the 
tignon had followed her own inclinations in matters of love re- 
gardless of conventions and morals by singing ' your headdress 
fell,' thus symbolizing Madame Caba's fall from virtue. 

In this song the word tignon takes the Creole form of tiyon. 


Madame Caba, tiyon vous tombe, Madame Caba, your headdress fell 


Madame Caba, en sortant dibal, Madame Caba, as you left the ball. 

Michie Zizi, cct in vaillan nomme. Mister Zizi, he's a handsome man. 

Michie Zizi, cet in vaillan nomme. Mister Zizi, he's a handsome man. 

Wa-ya, ya-ya-ya, tiyon vous tombe! . . . your headdress fell down! 
Wo-wo, wo-wo, tiyon vous tombe! . . . your headdress fell down! 

Wa-wa, wa-wa, tiyon vous tombe! etc., etc. 

Wo-wo, wo-wo, tiyon vous tombe! 
Wa-ya, wa-ya-ya-ya, tiyon vous tombe! 
Wo-wo- wo- wo- wo-wo, tiyon vous tomb6! 

Repetition played an important part in the effectiveness of 
songs of this type. The same lines were sung again and again, 
sometimes for hours, until the taunting words took on the 
monotonous rhythm of drum beats. 

Here is a very old version of something fairly close to the 
'Knock-knock, who's there?' craze of the early 1930*8. 




Cap, Cap, Cap! 

Who is there? 

It is Dede. 

Who is Dede? 

Dede Rooster. 

Who is Rooster? 

Bayou Rooster. 

Who is Bayou? 

Bayou Pig. 

Who is Pig? 

You, yourself, are a pig. 

Dame Tartina tells the remarkable story of a ' lady made like a 
sandwich,' her equally remarkable home and family, and their 
tragic fate. 

Cap, Cap, Cap! 
Qui ca qui la? 
Ce Dede. 
Qui Dede? 
Dede Coq. 
Qui Coq? 
Coq Boyau. 
Qui Boyau? 
Boyau Cochon. 
Qui Cochon? 
Cochon toi-mme. 


II etait une Dame Tartina 

Dans un palais de buerre frais, 

La muraille etait de farine, 

Le parquet etait de croquet, 

La chambre a coucher de creme et de 


Les lits de biscuits, 
Les rideaux d'anis. 

Elle epousa Monsieur Gimblette 
Coiffe d'un beau fromage blanc, 
Son habit etait de galette, 
Et sa vestc de vol-au-vent, 
Calotte en nougat, 
Gilet de chocolat, 
Bas de caramel, 
Et souliers de miel. 

Leur fille, la belle Charlotte 
Avaiet un nez de massepain, 
De belles dents de compotes, 
Des oreilles en crequelin, 
Je la vois garnir 
Sa robe de plaisir 
Avec un rouleau, 
De pate d'abricots. 

There was a lady made like a sand- 

Living in a palace of fresh butter. 
The wall was made of flour, 
The floor was made of crisp biscuit, 
The bedroom was of milk and cream, 

The beds of cookies, 
The curtains of anise. 

She married Monsieur Gimblette, 
Who wore a hat of fine white cheese, 
His suit of buttered roll, 
His vest of puff pie, 
His cap made of nougat, 
His vest of chocolate, 
Stockings of caramel, 
Shoes of honey. 

Their daughter Charlotte 

Had a nose made of sponge cake, 

Her fine teeth of jam, 

Her ears of cracknel, 

I see her trim 

Her party dress 

With a roll 

Of apricot paste. 


Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Le grand prince Limonadc, 
Bien frise vicnt faire sa cour 

Son habit dc marmcladc 

Orne de pommes cuites au four. 

On fremit en voyant sa garde 

De capres et de coraichons 

Armes de fusils de moutarde 

Et de sabres en pelures d'oignons. 

Sur un trone de brioches 
Charlotte et le roi vont s'asseoir. 

Les bonbons sortaiant de leurs poches 
Depuis le matin jusqu'au soir. 

Mais voila que la fee Carabosse, 
Jalouse et de mauvaise humeur 
Ren versa d'un coup de sa brosse 
Le palais sucre de bonheur. 

Pour le rebatir 
Donnez a loisir 
Donnez bons parents, 
Du sucre aux enfants. 

The great Prince Lemonade, 

His hair well curled, comes to court 


His suit was of marmalade 
Trimmed with baked apples. 
Everyone shuddered on seeing his 


Made up of capers and pickles 
Armed with guns of mustard 
And with swords of onion skins. 

On a throne of brioches 

Charlotte and the King are going to 

The candies were dropping from their 

From early morning to night. 

But here comes the fairy Hunchback, 
Jealous and in bad humor 
She upset with a sweep of her brush 
The palace sweetened with happiness. 

To construct it again 

Give indulgently, 

Give, dear parents, 

Plenty of sugar to the children. 

There are many versions of Mamzelle Zi%i. In the one below 
Mamzelle Zi%i is grieving for her lost lover and shows jealousy 
of her rival, who wears pretty clothes, which at that time con- 
sisted of a brilliant madras tignon, imported from the Indies, a 
gaily embroidered petticoat and earrings. 


Pov' piti Mamzelle Zizi ! 
Li gagnin bobo dans coeur! 
Pov' piti Mamzelle Zizi, 
Li gaignin tristesse dans coeur! 

Calalou porte madras, 

Li gagnin jupon brode, 

Li gagnin des belles allures, 

Boucle d'oreilles en or tout pure. 

Poor lil' Mamzelle Zizi! 
She has a pain in her heart! 
Poor lil' Mamzelle Zizi, 
She has sadness in her heart! 

Calalou wears madras, 
She has an embroidered petticoat, 
She has fine manners, 
Earrings made of pure gold. 

Songs 431 

Pov' piti Mamzelle Zizi, Poor lil' Mamzellc Zizi, 

Li gagnin bobo dans cocur! She has a pain in her heart! 

Pov' piti Mamzelle, Poor lil' Mamzelle Zizi, 

Li gaignin tristesse dans coeur! She has sadness in her heart! 

If I Die or Si Je Meurs speaks for itself. 


Si je meurs, je veux que Ton m'enterrc If I die, I wish to be buried 

Dans la cave, ou il y a du vin, In the cellar, where there is wine, 

Les deux pied centre la muraille Both feet against the wall 

Et la tete sous le robinet. And the head under the faucet. 

Si il tombe quclques gouttes If a few drops happen to fall 

Ce sera pour me rafraichir, It will be to refresh me, 

Si le tonneau se defence If the barrel opens up 

Que j'en boive a ma fantaisie. I will drink all I want. 

In the next one Creole practicality is demonstrated. 

Je voudrais bien me marier I would like to get married 

Mais je crains trop la pauvrete. But I dread poverty. 

Tout gargon qui n'a pas d' argent, Any young man without money, 

L'amour lui passe et la faim lui vient. Love leaves him and hunger comes. 

Je voudrais bien me marier I would like to get married 

Mais je crains trop la pauvrete. But I dread poverty. 

Toute jeune fille qui n'a pas d'argent, Any young girl without money, 

Va s'enfermer dans un vieux couvent. Goes to enter an old convent. 

Delaide, My Queen and Every New Years Day are two odd little 
Creole songs which were favorites of Bernard Marigny de Mande- 
ville, during the years the famous Creole lived in splendor. It is 
said he often had them sung in his home for the amusement of his 
guests, among whom perhaps was Louis Philippe, who visited 
him at his father's home in 1798. 


Delaide, mo la Reine, Delaide, my little Queen, 

Chimin-la trop longque pou aller, This road is too long to travel, 

Chimin-la monte dans les hauts; This road climbs into the heights; 

Tout piti que mo ye As small as I am 

M'alle monte la-haut dans courant. I will get there, by the stream. 


C'cst moin, Liron, qui riv 
M'allc di ye 
Bonsoir, mo la Reine 
C'cst moin Liron qui rive. 

Gumbo Ya-Ya 

It is I, Liron, who am going 

To tell you 

Good night, my Queen 

It is I, Liron, who am coming. 


Tous les jours de 1'an, 

Tous les jours de 1'an, 

Tous les jours de Tan, 

Vous pas vini ouare moin. 

Mo te couch e malade dans litte; 

Mo voey nouvelles appres mo la 


Vous pas soulement vini ouare moin 
A present, que mo gaillard, 
Cher ami, mo pas besoin ouare vous. 

Every New Year's Day, 

Every New Year's Day, 

Every New Year's Day 

You never came to see me. 

I was sick in my bed; 

I asked for news about my Queen 

You did not even come to see me, 

So, now that I am well, 

Dear friend, I do not need to see you. 

When Marigny was old and penniless, living in a small house 
in Frenchman Street in New Orleans, he spent his days walking 
through the streets of the Vieux Carre, visiting with Creole 
friends living in that section. 

He always carried an old black umbrella, with a crooked 
handle hooked over his left arm, a palmetto fan in his right 
hand. He was always hatless. 

Marigny loved to entertain friends with the old Creole songs, 
especially the risque ones, and when young ladies were present, 
he would make them cover their ears with both hands. If the 
hands came down, perhaps to slap a mosquito, he would stop 
instantly, resuming his song only when the hands were firmly 
pressed over both ears again. He would accompany his songs by 
picking his palmetto fan as if it were a guitar, keeping time by 
beating the floor with his right foot. 

It is said that while most of the young ladies were modest and 
obedient, there were always some who cheated by raising one 
hand a little, anxious to hear the words of Marigny's naughty 

Aie! Sou^ette is a song of love, in which the gallant lover 
threatens even to 'carry cane' i.e., go to work certainly 
the eDitome of devotion. 

Songs 419 


Aie! Souzette, Souzette belle fome, Ah! Souzette, Souzette, beautiful 

Souzette, belle fome, mo cher ami, Souzette, beautiful woman, my dear 


Prie bon Dieu pou moin. Pray to God for me. 

Ma pale attende li mo cher zami, I will wait for her, my dear friend, 

Ma porte di canne, mo cher zami, I will carry cane, my dear friend, 

Su coin mo 1'epaule. On top of my shoulder. 


These are songs popular in northern Louisiana where the 
French and Creole penetration has been insignificant and where 
the folk more closely resemble the inhabitants of neighboring 
states than do southern Louisianians. Most of these ballads are 
sung to the accompaniment of guitars and banjos when the day's 
work is done and rural groups gather in the evenings. In these 
epics the women are always chaste, heroes extremely heroic and 
bad men very, very 'bad. In The Jealous Lover, for instance, there 
is a superabundance of jealousy. 


Way down in love's green valley, where the roses bloom and fade, 

There lived a jealous lover, in love with a beautiful maid. 

One night the moon shone brightly, the stars were shining, too; 

Into this maiden's cottage, this jealous lover drew. 

Come, love, and we will wander, down where the woods are gay, 

While strolling we will ponder upon our wedding day. 

So arm and arm they wander, the night birds sang above, 

And the jealous lover grew angry with the beautiful girl he loved. 

The night grew dark and dreary, said she, I'm afraid to stay, 

I am so tired and weary I must retrace my way. 

Retrace your way, no never, for you have met your doom, 

So bid farewell forever to parents, friends and home. 

Oh, Willie, won't you tell me, I know there's something wrong, 

You must not harm me, Willie, for we've been friends too long. 

Down on her knees before him, she pleaded for her life, 

But deep into her bosom he plunged that fatal knife. 

4 4 o Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Oh, Willie, my poor darling, why have you taken my life? 
You know I always loved you, and I wanted to be your wife. 
I never have deceived you, and with my dying breath, 
I forgive you, Willie, and she closed her eyes in death. 

Roses and moonlight are always appropriate settings for ' true 
love.' Many a tear drops from the girls' eyes when the singer 
pops the guitar strings and renders the heart-throbbing Little 


Little sweetheart, we have parted, 
From each other we soon must go, 
Many a mile will separate us 
In this world of sin and woe. 

Will you cherish every promise 
That you made me in the lane? 
And remember, I will meet you 
When the roses bloom again. 

How this parting gives me sorrow 
None but me will ever know; 
When I leave you on tomorrow 
My heart stays while I must go. 

Will you give me all your heart, dear? 
Will you love me all the same? 
And remember, I will meet you 
When the roses bloom again. 

Sentimentality and melodrama are unrestrained. Love is often 
blighted by jealousy. The lovers suffered for naught in Nell 

and I. 


Nell and I were quarreling, 

Just as two lovers do. 

I was mostly jealous, 

I thought Nell was untrue. 

Nell received a letter, 'twas from an old sweetheart, 

'Twas then I told her, we had better part. 

Songs 441 

Dearest, I am sorry that I have caused you pain; 
Come and kiss me, Nellie, let us be friends again. 
I shall always love you, as long as life shall last. 
Darling, forgive me, let's forget the past. 

Nellie said, I'll tell you 

Since we are to part, 

All about the letter 

From an old sweetheart. 

It Was from a sister, who had gone astray 

Oh, the tears are bitter, oh, I cannot say . . . 

Just a short while after, 

Poor Nellie passed away; 

Softly within her bosom, 

Two tear-stained letters lay. 

One was a fatal message, that had caused much woe, 

The other she had written to me long ago. 

The Broken Vow is even more heartrending. 

'Twould have been better for us both had we never 
In this wicked wide world to have met, 
For the pleasures we've both seen together 
It is I who can never forget. 

Oh, you said that you always would love me, 
And no other should ever come in between, 
It has been long ago since you spoke them, 
But your words in my memory are green. 

Oh, how fondly my heart grows toward you, 
Though the distance has thrown us apart. 
Do you love me as last when you held me, 
On your bosom so close to your heart? 

Oh, you said that you always would love me, 
Oh, but why do I speak of it now? 
Have I not long ago felt the danger 
Of a heart broken through a lost vow? 


Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Fare thee well, since all hope has departed; 
I will struggle through life until death. 
Since you have left me broken-hearted, 
Your words shall employ my last breath. 

When the cold, cold grave shall enclose me, 
Won't you come, love, and shed a single tear? 
And say to the people around you 
That a heart you have broken lies here. 

There is evidence that this next one originated at Spring 
Creek, just south of Alexandria, Louisiana. This hero was not 
in the preferred ' true-blue' tradition, but he was a dashing ras- 
cal, who must have made all the feminine hearts flutter. 

I'll eat when I'm hungry, I'll drink when I'm dry, 

And if women don't kill me, I'll live till I die. 

My mother was a sweeper, she wore her blue jeans, 

My father was a gambler, and he died in Noo'r'leeens. 

Up in my saddle, my quirt in my hands, 

I'll think about you, Mollie, in some distant land. 

Your parents don't like me, they say I'm too poor, 

They say I'm unworthy to darken your door. 

I'm a reevin', I'm a rovin', I'm a rarin' young blade, 

I've clem up Pike's Peak and I've set in the shade. 

Jack o' Diamonds, Jack o' Diamonds, I knows you of old, 

You robbed my pockets of silver and gold. 

Oh, the cuckoo is a purty bird, and she brings us good cheer, 

But the cuckoo never sings till the spring of the year. 

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck, 

I'd dive to the bottom, and take one sweet suck. 

Pick, buzzard, pick, buzzard, pick a hole in my head, 

My sweetheart don't love me and I wish I was dead. 

In the same Spring Creek community the memory of John 
Hollin will never fade. He was a desperado extraordinary. 

Songs 44$ 


John Hollin was a desperate man, he wore his gun every day; 
He killed him a man in the West Virginia lands, 
And you orta seen Hollin get away, Lord God, you oughta seen Hollin 
get away. 

John Hollin was a-standing by the barroom door, not a-thinking of a 

doggone thing; 

Along come a woman with a one-dollar bill, 
Says I'll lead poor Hollin in the game, Lord God; says I'll lead poor 

Hollin in the game. 

John Hollin took this one-dollar bill, he quickly drew his gun, 

And shot John Paddy right through the heart, 

I'll never tell a lie to my gun, Lord God, I'll never tell a lie to my gun. 

John Hollin went to the big stock gate, he did not go for to stay, 
Along come a man and took him by the hand, 

Saying, Hollin, won't you step this way, Lord God, saying, Hollin, 
won't you step this way. 

I've been to the east and I've been to the west, I've been this wide world 


t've been to the river and I've been baptized, 
But now I'm on my hanging ground, Lord God, but now I'm on my 

hanging ground. 

If you see anybody wants to know my name, just send them up to Num- 
ber 9. 

There you'll see two charming maids, 

That brown-eyed woman, she's mine, Lord God, that brown-eyed 
woman, she's mine. 

With a silver spade go dig my grave, with a golden chain let me down, 
And the last words that I heard him say, 

Tell Mamma not to weep for me, Lord God, tell Mamma not to weep 
for me. 

In this one a bad man wins a heart and saves his neck. The 
maiden arrived on the scene just in the nick of time. 

444 Gumbo Ya-Ya 


I went down to the town depot 
To see that train roll by, 
I thought I saw my dear old girl 
Hang her head and cry. 

Hang her head and cry, old girl, hang her head and cry, 
I thought I saw my dear old girl hang her head and cry. 

The night was dark and stormy, 

It sure did look like rain. 

Not a friend in this whole wide world, 

No one knew my name. 

No one knew my name, poor boy, no one knew my name. 
Not a friend in this whole wide world, no one knew my name. 

Wait, Mr. Judge, won't you wait, Mr. Judge, 

Wait a little while? 

I think I see my dear old girl, 

She's walked for miles and miles. 

Dear girl, have you brought me silver? 

Dear girl, have you brought me gold? 

Dear girl, have you walked these long, long miles, 

To see me hanging on a hangman's pole? 

Dear boy, I brought you silver, 

Dear boy, I brought you gold, 

But I have not walked these long, long miles 

To see you hanging on a hangman's pole. 

She took me from a scaffold, 

She untied my hands, 

With tears rolling down that poor girl's cheeks, 

Said, 'I love that highway man.' 

The next one was heard in Ponchatoula. It offers financial 

Songs 445 

Sez the first old geezer 
To the second old geezer, 
' Have you got any terbaccy 
In your terbaccy box?' 

Sez the second old geezer 

To the first old geezer, 

' Save up your rocks 

And you'll always have terbaccy 

In your old terbaccy box.' 


Louisiana is rich in a store of children's songs, many showing 
Creole and Negro influence. Some are local versions of well- 
known songs, parodies of Mother Goose rhymes, etc. ; others are 
original both in words and music. 

The following version of Humpty Dumfty from New Orleans 
bares a frank mark of adult sex consciousness. 

Mumty Dumty sat on a wall, 

Mumty Dumty had an awful fall. 

The lady was passing by 

And her dress was rather high 

And for her not knowing 

The wind was blowing 

Oh, the lady kept going. 

She stooped down to buckle her shoe 

That was all I saw. 

Folks, that's what made Ole Mumty 

Run home and tell your paw. 

These next are counting rhymes, used when playing Fate. 

Inny ke nicky nacky noe 
Rivaly divaly dommy noe 
Ex a blow, soffa, low, tissue. 


Ooka dooka soda cracker, 
Does your father chew tobacco? 
Yes, my father chews tobacco, 
Ooka dooka soda cracker. 

446 Gumbo Ya-Ya 

Children form a ring and go around and around with one in 
the middle and sing this one: 

Way down yonder 
Soup to soup ! 
Where dem white folks 
Soup to soup! 
Tryin* to make man 
Soup to soup! 
Biscuits hot 
Soup to soup! 
Corn bread cold 
Soup to soup! 
Thank God Almighty 
Soup to soup! 
Just give me a little mo* 
Soup to soup. 

In another game played in a circle, the leader shouts the first 
lines and the others answer in unison. 

Leader: Did you go to the hen house? 
Chorus: Yes, mam! 

Did you get any eggs? 

Yes, mam! 
Did you put 'em in the bread? 

Yes, mam! 
Did you bake it brown? 

Yes, mam! 
Did you hand it over? 

Yes, mam! 
Good old egg bread, 

Shake 'em, shake 'em! 
Good old egg bread, 

Shake 'em, shake 'em! 
Did you go to the lynchin'? 

Yes, mam! 
Did they lynch that man? 

Yes, mam! 
Did that man cry? 

Yes, mam! 

Songs 447 

How did he cry? 

Baa, baa! 
How did he cry? 

Baa, baa! 

Freedom among early slaves often meant spiritual salvation, 
freedom from sin. Later, of course, the idea of emancipation 
grew, and the Negro began to hate his master in many cases. In 
the following game song bitterness against a mistress is ex- 
pressed and a gruesome hope mentioned. The person contribut- 
ing the song remembered only that in the game the ring was